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Art by Joan Medina ~ @joanmadethis



Dune Is More Relevant Now Than When It Was Written


by Caitlin Brehm

When thinking of words to describe Denis Villenueve’s Dune: Part Two, the one that overwhelmingly comes to mind is “epic.” This may seem a bit obvious, yet the experience that Villeneuve was able to cultivate is one that can’t often be replicated. Building on the groundwork Frank Herbert laid in the 1960s novel, Villeneuve makes it something larger than life. Not only is this story entertaining, it also interweaves a discussion of decades-old issues our society has been facing.

When Dune: Part Two began its roll out in theaters, I had yet to see the first film; despite being a sci-fi enthusiast; I remained skeptical, as some of my peers had called it “boring” and “dense.” After a lively explanation from a friend who was persuading me to watch Dune, I finally did. I was hooked and baffled by anyone who had described this world to me as “boring.” I fell in love with the universe Frank Herbert had created and with the lore and culture of Arrakis. 

Once I settled down into the theater to watch Part Two, I was transported amazed and didn’t want it to end (that’s saying a lot considering its 2h 46m runtime). I’m somewhat of a romantic when it comes to the movies and to the unique experience the theater can provide. There’s something about having a shared experience with the strangers around you, while watching a film that will someday be known as one of the greats. Memories of seeing films, such as The Hunger Games, Avengers: Endgame, and now Dune: Part Two in theaters, are the kind I hold dear. 

As a certified Villenueve fan (Arrival is one of my all-time favorites) I had no doubt that he would nail the visuals. The view through this film is breathtaking. The contrast between Arrakis and Giedi Prime, our two main locales, is stark, yet they are each beautiful in their own way. On Arrakis we get warmth of deserts and the setting sun: extreme wide shots of the terrain and close-ups of what little wildlife exists on the desert planet. On Giedi Prime, however, is where we get my favorite scene in the film. All outdoor scenes on Giedi Prime are shown in unique, contrasty black and white (the sun to this planet is black, and gives no regular light to refract and create color), and the Harkonnen arena scene manages to achieve an alien quality distinct from other scenes. The greyscale possesses an incredible starkness, making the Harkonnen appear even more bestial and brutal than they do elsewhere in the film. 

The arena scene, in brilliant fashion, was shot using infrared in order to get this otherworldly feel. The large arena, packed with crowds of hairless on-lookers, the arena guards dressed in strange jester-like uniforms, and the inky black fireworks overhead, all combine to create a specific kind of discomfort. Add to this Austin Butler’s predatory depiction of the Harkonnen, Feyd-Rautha, and the scene becomes the awe-inspiring gem it is. 

Butler’s Feyd-Rautha was one of the standouts in performance. I absolutely love when an actor can realize a good villain, and Butler definitely takes the cake. Rebecca Ferguson also shines in her return to her role as Lady Jessica. I was in love with Ferguson’s performance in the first film and delighted to see her character grow more complex in the second film. Her portrayal of Jessica, and her slow descent into Bene Gesserit madness, transfixed me. Jessica starts off the series as a somewhat cold, yet loving, mother to Paul Atriedes. Though she is merely the Duke’s concubine, she plays an important respected role in the Atreides family.


In Part Two, the Atreides household has fallen, and Jessica begins to embrace her Bene Gesserit training in full. We witness her journey to becoming Reverend Mother to the Fremen and the consequences that have come along with that. She spends the film pushing Paul towards bringing a holy war to Arrakis, even trying to convince him his unborn sister agrees this is the necessary path that he must take. Paul ultimately decides to accept his fate as the Kwisatz Haderach (male Bene Gesserit) and as the savior of the Fremen because of Jessica’s insistence. 

Zendaya’s character, Chani, intrigued me in the first film and I was looking forward to seeing how her character would develop in Part Two. Although I enjoyed watching her develop her relationship with Paul, ultimately her character fell flat for me. I hoped to learn more about her, but she was merely reduced to Paul’s love interest. Even with Chani as the sole voice of resistance, this still disappointed me, to see another female character treated as a plot device for the male protagonist. Female characters written by men have a habit of being one-dimensional, and Chani is no exception. During their climactic fight scene, Feyd-Rautha catches Paul locking eyes with Chani and asks, “She’s your pet?” Unfortunately this line is quite fitting—Paul’s pet is the extent to which Chani’s role plays out in the story. She teaches him to sandwalk and fit in as a Fremen, only to be cast aside for Princess Irulan. 

Paul Atreides, he of the many epithets: Lisan al-Gaib, Maud’dib, Kwisatz Haterach, and Messiah, is brought to life by Timothee Chalamet. Although I like Chalamet in films such as Call Me By Your Name and Little Women, I have never really subscribed to the hysterics surrounding him. Still, after I saw Paul in the first Dune I was convinced that he’s one of the greatest actors of our generation. He really is the perfect Paul, both physically and emotionally, just as Herbert described in the novel. Paul’s character undergoes a dramatic transformation in the second film and Chalamet’s monologues towards the end of the film, underscoring this, gave me chills. Chalamet depicted the shift from meek and humble to confident and power-mongering to perfection, and the final battle between Paul and Feyd-Rautha is sure to be one of my favorite cinematic moments of the year. 

Maybe the thing that amazed me most about this story is how ahead of its time Dune was when it was first published eighty years ago, in 1965. I challenge you to watch Dune and not walk away with some understanding of the politics Frank Herbert hinted at. In the most basic terms, Dune is a story about wealthy and noble houses that have taken turns colonizing a desert planet for control of its most valuable export. The way I, and many others see it, this is clearly an allegorical representation of the Euro-American forces that wreak havoc in the Middle East, as they control and extract its oil. It is worth noting that one of the reasons spice is so precious is because it is essential in aiding interstellar travel, a glaring resemblance to the role oil plays in our current society. 

In an interview from the 1980s, Herbert explains that he saw water on Arrakis as a metaphor for oil, clean air, and water itself. He sought to articulate the challenges he saw our world beginning to face in the 60s. In the novel and the film, we see how precious and sacred Fremen hold water, due to its scarcity. They steward the precious substance, taking stringent care of their environment. Meanwhile, the ruling families of the empire fight over spice, as people in ours would fight over natural resources. 

Dune can be interpreted many different ways, and I think that was perhaps Herbert’s intention. I feel the story is more relevant now than it was when it was written. The challenges Herbert was beginning to notice in the 1960s have only intensified in the 21st century. Having grown up in a post-9/11 world, I recognize the similarities to our current conflict in the Middle East as unignorable. Arrakis being a desert planet is a big part of this, but it is also obvious that both Fremen and Bene Gesserit culture, clothing, and terminology are heavily influenced by Abrahimic and Middle Eastern cultures. The Bene Gesserit, for example, represent the role of religion in the empire, and are most likened to Evangelical Christianity with its messianic focus. 

In this scenario, the galactic empire is a metaphor for America. The Atreides are known as one of the more righteous noble houses and the Duke is seen as a fair ruler. I see this as an analogy to the belief (of some Westerners) that America is a great power that can do no wrong, as it brings democracy and freedom. By the time the Atreides take control of Arrakis, the Fremen, stand-ins for Palestinians and the like, are exhausted and angry after centuries of cycling through different oppressors. They express that they have love and respect for the desert, while their oppressors only seek to exploit it, and them, for spice, through any means necessary. 

While the Atreides strategy is to befriend the Fremen and learn their ways, the Harkonnen barely acknowledge the Fremen as human and see them as an inconvenience to be exterminated in order to get to what they need: spice. The House Harkonnen represents corporate exploitation, warmongering, and racism towards the Fremen. We see clips of Baron Harkonnen spitting vitriol to his lackeys about the Fremen and they are referred to as “rats.” I think these two sides of the imperialist coin can be seen as American propaganda vs. the horrors that have actually taken place on Middle Eastern soil. The Atreides represent what American nationalists would have us believe: that America is lending a helping hand. The Harkonnen represent reality: wars have been fought and many lives lost in the name of harvesting oil. 

When I think about the fact that I was living a life without Dune, only a few months ago, it’s hard to believe that a sci-fi nerd like me went a quarter of a century without knowing anything about this iconic story. A story, at its core, that is something so incredible, and Villenueve made it even easier to fall in love with. It makes me so happy that Villenueve was able to create something this beautiful and buzz-worthy, because now Dune is more accessible to a broader audience (not just to film bros and old school sci-fi nerds). Some people may be growing tired of the Arrakis hype by this point, still, my love for Dune knows no bounds.

06. 02. 24


Popeye in Malta: A Filmmaker's Adventure


by Stephanie Gardner


*note: may contain some spoilers. . . .

What do GladiatorThe Count of Monte CristoCaptain PhilipsMunichTroyGame of Thrones and Popeye all have in common? These films were all made on the sunny island-nation of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. 

I discovered all this when I chose Malta as the destination to run my first marathon. Having trained in the cold, snowy, steep, high altitude Sangre de Cristo mountains of Northern New Mexico, I thought it would be a breeze to run on a relatively flat course at sea level with mild temperatures. 

Boy was I wrong! The day of the race came and the temperamental weather gods graced us with torrential downpours, from beginning to end. Runners huddled together under a gas station awning to try to stay dry before the start, a task that proved impossible. 

At the last minute, I decided to keep my outer jacket for the race instead of putting it in my finish line bag as previously planned. 

Other runners looked at me and asked, “Are you really going to wear that to run?” 

Yes. Yes I was. And boy am I glad I did. It was the only thing that kept me relatively dry for much of the race. I never felt too hot nor did I ever feel the need to take it off. The monsoon-like rains never stopped. Perhaps training in the winter snow wearing heavy layers to run in paid off after all! 

My goal for this first marathon was simply to finish, and to finish in under the allotted time, which for the Malta Marathon was five hours. 

Because of the rains, I took some portions of the course extra slow. At times we were running through the middle of towns and villages, which have uneven brick or stone pavements, narrow passageways, often with locals walking to work. There was also a lot of vehicle traffic that was on the route. This was more challenging than I was prepared for. 

Because of the rains, the sidewalks or roads were extra slippery and since I couldn’t always see the surface in front of me (the rains were that heavy that you couldn’t always see the ground… some roads were completely flooded spilling over the sidewalks). 

I told myself, “if you get injured, you won’t finish at all” so I made myself go super slow and carefully through some of these potentially slippery spots. This paid off. 

Halfway through the race, I was running on a narrow sidewalk under a tunnel when a large van came racing down the street and splashed me from head to toe with puddle water. The rest of the race was miserable because I became so cold and unbearably wet from this aggressive driver. I was running with puddles in my shoes. Feet damp and cold. But I persevered. 

Ironically, the day before and the day after, this landscape showed turquoise waters and clear blue skies with 66 degree Fahrenheit weather: perfect for a casual… or not so casual… Run! 

It wasn’t until the last 3 miles or so that I started to worry that I wouldn’t finish in time. (I had miscalculated because I was getting confused between the computation of kilometers to miles in my head.) This portion of the race was entirely along the waterfront with the many forts in the distance and mega yachts parked along the pier. 

The race started outside the city gate of Mdina, a fortified city on a hill believed to date back to the Phoenician times. Kings Landing of Game of Thrones was filmed here, as well as more recently, a stand-in for Paris in Ridley Scott’s 2023 Napoleon. I did, however, visit Mdina a couple days after the race and stayed in a local’s home inside the walls of this fortified old town, with a population of approximately 300 residents and hoards of daytrippers. I had the best chocolate cake of my life at the Fontanella Tea Garden. 

In the days after the race, I took a couple weeks to explore the fascinating history and stunning landscapes that Malta and its sister island of Gozo, have to offer. 

Malta is an independent archipelagic country, approximately 60 miles south of Italy’s island of Sicily, and about 180 miles north of North Africa. Malta is the tenth smallest country in the world. While the archipelago consists of five islands, Malta is the biggest and most populated (Gozo, the sister island is also populated, Comino, even smaller, has a population of one, and the other two are small, uninhabited landmasses). Malta is so small that my marathon took me running across half the island! The island of Malta is only 17 miles long and 9 miles wide.

The history of Malta is jam-packed with action, well suited for a screenwriter. From Neolithic times to early agriculturists who created some of the oldest-known man-made structures in the world: the Megalithic temples of Malta, dating back 12,000 years, proven to be older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza; to the seafaring Phoenicians who came in from nearby Carthage and used Malta as a trading post until the Romans took over. Malta became one of the first countries to be converted to Christianity, as it’s believed the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked on Malta. I visited the grotto where St. Paul is said to have hid out and begun converting the population. 

Then the Germanic Vandals and Ostrogoths took over, eventually integrating into the Eastern Roman Byzantine Empire before the Arab Conquest invaded and conquered the island. The Maltese language has a lot of influences from this time, as the Abbasid dynasty brought in a specific dialect of Arabic, now extinct, the Siculo Arabic, which the Maltese language is considered a descendant of. 

I wrongly assumed, going in, that Malta, being so close to Italy, would have a large Italian influence (and certainly it does in terms of cuisine and other such things), but the languages are quite different. Maltese is the only official language in a European country that is Semitic. Maltese is also the only Semitic language in the world that is written in a Latin script. It’s very unique indeed! 

Arab rule continued for several centuries until 1091, when the Norman King of Scily, Roger I, invaded and took back Malta in the name of Christianity. (The island was then tossed between the Germans, French, Spanish, unsuccessfully invaded by Tunisians in the 1492 Siege of Malta), and Malta soon became a hotbed of the Christian Crusades under the Knights Hospitaller (The Order of the Knights Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem). The Knights Hospitaller were kicked out of the Island of Rhodes, and given Malta by the King of Sicily, in exchange for two Maltese Falcons per annum. Of course my mind goes directly to Humphrey Bogart as a noir detective in the classic 1941 John Huston movie, but sadly, the plot of this movie has nothing to do with the contract that gave a Christian military order free reign over the Maltese islands.



I became fascinated by the Knights of St. John: even though they were relatively small in number (they numbered in the hundreds), they had a huge impact on the modern history of Malta, and took the notion of branding oneself to impressive heights. Their armor, weapons, shields, and the massive and artistically ornate cathedrals they built were full of symbolism. The Knights Order consisted of eight “langues,” each from a different region of Europe, and each had their own flag, aesthetic-design styles in art and architecture, and so on. 

After fighting off the Ottoman army in the Great Siege of Malta (1565), and to some surprise defeating them, as Knights of St. Johns were the underdogs (the knights built up an army of approx. 6,000 men, whereas the Ottomans had nearly 28,000 men), the Knights ruled over Malta until 1798, when Napoleon conquered Malta and kicked out the Knights. By 1800, though, the British took over Malta, as the French were so hated by the Maltese, Malta became a British protectorate for the next century-and-a-half. 

When you visit the St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Malta’s capital of Valleta, founded by the Order of St. John, you see that each langue got to design their own chapel, and each chapel is craftily curated in the preferred arts style of that region (i.e. the Langue of France, Langue of Italy, Langue of Aragon and so forth). 

From the outside, the St. John’s Co-Cathedral is unassuming. The knights had a habit of building their churches and government buildings to resemble military forts. The cathedral was built by the Order of St. John (the knights) between 1573 and 1578 in dedication to St. John the Baptist. It was packed with tourists. In some areas you could hardly move around. But it was beautiful: the artistry inside. I thought it was one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen, maybe next to Gaudí's La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The ceilings, especially, painted by Mattia Pretty (an Italian Baroque artist), are masterpieces. The architecture, light, columns and archways and frescoes on the ceilings of the nave with lots of gold gilding makes a spectacular sight. 

I became obsessed with the tombs, for important knights and dignitaries, lining the floor; very colorful with artistic tiles depicting coats of arms or skulls or angels or other loyalty symbols. They sometimes even looked like scenes out of a comic-book. 

There was an oratory room that had paintings by Caravaggio. You walk in the room mouth agape and awestruck at what you saw. The light he creates in his painting feels like stills from expert cinematography, yet he was painting nearly 300 years prior to the advent of moving pictures! 

The famous piece in here is “the Beheading of St. John the Baptist,” apparently, it’s the only work Caravaggio ever signed. Also highlighted is his painting of “St. Jerome Writing,” which I quite liked. 

Carravagio ended up in Malta because he had been arrested in Rome for a violent quarrel where he killed a man (in a bar brawl). He fled Rome for Naples hoping to get a Papal pardon. The Order of St. John’s took him in: he sailed with them to Malta and produced some work for them in exchange. But Carravagio got in another brawl in Malta, this time with a high-ranking Knight (and he seriously wounded the knight). Caravaggio was arrested and imprisoned at Fort St. Angelo, where he escaped for Sciliy. He was expelled from the Order. 

The new Netflix limited thriller series, Ripley, starring Andrew Scott, Johnny Flynn, and Dakota Fanning goes into this Caravaggio storyline and Caravaggio’s trajectory and aesthetic influences becomes a sort of metaphor for Ripley’s inner psyche. 

Fascinating to me though, is WWII history in Malta: heavily bombed by Germany and Italy, Malta never gave up their land nor were conquered by the Axis. The archipelago had unique positioning as an Allied territory with direct access to the Axis lands. It eventually became an air-base and the staging area for the Invasion of Sicily, aka Operation Husky, which Eisenhower and Patton planned from an underground war room a la Dr. Strangelove in labyrinth-like tunnels under the city of Valletta. I visited this series of underground tunnels, deep under the Upper Baraka Gardens, and learned all about Operation Husky at the Lascaris War Room, with a guided tour from a historian who turned me onto the book, Sciliy ’43, by James Holland, a very dense and thorough look into the planning and execution of Operation Husky, which proved successful and helped to speed up the end of WWII.


Even more interesting was Operation Mincemeat, which was a fake invasion of Greece that was planned to divert Hitler’s attention away from Sicily to allow Operation Husky to move forward. There is a well-made movie from 2021, starring Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen, which depicts Operation Mincemeat in all its absurd, surreal peculiarities. If it didn’t really happen, you would never believe the plot of this riveting movie! Malta finally gained its independence in 1964, with the British fully leaving in 1979, the same year Robert Altman filmed Popeye

* * *

The highlight of the trip, was traveling to Mellieħa on the Northwest coast, to visit Popeye Village, what remains of the set of Robert Altman’s 1980 film, Popeye, a live-action movie- musical shot in Malta on a set they built on the coast at Anchor Bay, near Mellieħa. 


​I took some time to walk around Mellieħa, a cute town on a hill surrounded by gorgeous turquoise waters, with the obligatory church and town square and narrow side streets and tourist shops on the main drag. 

After a breakfast of Salmon Avocado Toast at the Seaview Cafe, a dive overlooking the Mediterranean, popular with locals and tourists alike, I Ubered to “Popeye Village,” the main tourist attraction of the area. For the past five years, I have been traveling the world with a travel-meets-cinema arts and culture docu-series, 33 and Me, which includes visiting filming locations of movies made in over 33 countries around the world. Though I was not in Malta for 33 and Me, I couldn’t resist the urge to scope out where Robert Altman’s Popeye was filmed. After all, it’s set in one of the most gorgeous spots on the planet.


* * *


Sweet Sweethaven 

God must love us 

We the people 

Love Sweethaven 

Hurray hurray Sweethaven 

Flags are wavin' 

Swept people from the sea 

Safe from democracy 

Sweeter than a melon tree 

Put here for you and me 


As this anthem-to-Sweet Haven opens the movie, we are introduced to the quirks and characters of the town, while Popeye rows in on a small boat. Antics abound! A man chases his hat down the street, another awkwardly slides down a fire pole. The movie uses a lot of physical humor, and apparently Altman brought in various circus performers from across Europe to play some of these background roles. 

The funniest is the tax collector, who accosts Popeye as soon as he’s out of his (very tiny) rowboat. There’s a tax for everything in Sweet Haven. I wouldn’t be surprised if thinking without speaking gets you a surcharge! 


There’s a new-in-town tax, a rowboat-under-the-wharf tax, leavin’-your-junk-lyin’-around-the-wharf tax. The taxes, we are told, go to the “Commodore.” 


“Who’s the Commodore?” Popeye asks. 


For that he gets charged a nickel for the “asking-a-question tax.” 


There’s even an exact-change tax. You can’t win! 


This early banter between the taxman and Popeye introduces us to the style and tone of the film: it’s quick and satirically funny with a lot of physical humor. 


“I’m just disgustipated,” Popeye, resigned, mutters as he heads into Sweet Haven for the first time. 


One of the unique things about Popeye, like Malta itself, is the language. Popeye has his own individualistic way of speaking, a dialect that heightens phrases to a cartoonish level: “Whatta co-in-ki-dink” he might say. 


At first, nobody in Sweet Haven is nice to Popeye. He walks the streets looking for a place to stay, even a friendly nod, but the town is seemingly afraid of outsiders. This kind of feels like a lot of places in the world today. Fear the other, could be the slogan for such a feeling.  

All the shop owners slam shut their doors and windows as Popeye passes by, “Closed” and “No rooms for rent” signs suddenly emerge. And to add insult to injury, Popeye gets knocked down to the ground. 


Finally, Popeye finds some hospitality in the matriarch of the Oyl family (pronounced “oil”). Mrs. Oyl offers Popeye her room for rent, while the rest of the family is still skeptical: Castor Oyl, the son, is afraid of strangers like the rest of the town; the pretty tall and lanky Olive (Shelly Duvall) acts like a spoiled teenager and wants nothing to do with Popeye, while comedically tripping over herself and completely destroying his room from her clumsiness. Picture frames come crashing off the wall; she trips into the bed which collapses into what looks like an off-kilter Van Gogh painting. 


Olive is perhaps the most cartoonish character of all; and the wardrobe really helps to give this movie a unique look of its own. Olive Oil is in a red blouse, she puts a big black and white polka dotted bow in her hair, she has round red earrings. One of the funniest scenes to me comes early on in the movie: Popeye’s first night in Sweet Haven, when he tries to sit down for dinner with the Oyl family. There’s no room for Popeye at the table, so he moves his chair round and round the table, until he can find a place to squeeze into. Meanwhile, Popeye is a gentleman, and stands up every time Mrs. Oyl comes to sit at the table. But as Mrs. Oyl is also the one serving dinner, she’s constantly getting up and down from the table, thus causing Popeye to stand up and sit back down in rapid succession. It becomes a bit of “musical chairs” meets “duck duck goose.” To top it off, no one ever sets him a plate, so he has no way of eating the food served on the table. 


By the end of the scene, everyone’s left the table under different pretexts, and Popeye is alone without having ever been served food. 


“It’s never good to be too full, I guess,” says Popeye. 


I love this about the movie: for all the obstacles Popeye comes across, he always maintains a positive attitude, and he continues to move forward in his journey. And for the most part, no matter how rude everyone is to him, he still remains a gentleman. He’s still mostly kind and of strong heart. 


It feels like running a marathon: despite the rain, sleet or snow; the hills, the traffic, the miles and miles and miles where you feel like your feet will fall off, you keep going. Because that’s life as Popeye handles every obstacle that comes his way without dwelling on the difficulties, he keeps going because he has goal: to find his long-lost father. 


While the plot to Popeye is somewhat simple, there’s a nice existentialism to the piece. 


Once Popeye becomes a “mother” after he and Olive Oyl find an abandoned baby left on the wharf, Popeye starts to question his place in the world. 


“What am I?” He asks in song form. 


“I yam what I yam what I yam” he sings. “And that’s all I yam.” 


There’s something cathartic in embracing this overly-simplistic inner self. Why try to be something you’re not? Why try to be anything other than who you already are? 


Nowadays most people live such busy lives, we stress over the smallest things, sometimes over- analyzing who we are, and how we should best project that identity to the world. In reality, if we just stepped back from everything and allowed ourselves to say, “I yam what I yam,” life might start to feel a little bit easier, and perhaps, more enjoyable! After all, there is a certain joie de vivre to Popeye’s lifestyle. 


And baby Swee’pea really steals the show. This baby is smiley and charming all throughout, and he has a surprising amount of screen time! Turns out, the baby was Robert Altman’s grandson! 


At the start of the movie, Olive Oyl is engaged to Bluto, a big, brutish guy who works for the Commodore, and controls the town in a bullish way. After Popeye and Olive return with a baby, Bluto takes this to mean she’s been sneaking around on him, and he wreaks havoc on the Oyl’s house, destroying it and making them destitute. 


Swee’pea is kidnapped . . . a couple of times . . . once by Uncle Wimpy because it’s discovered that Swee’pea is psychic and can predict the winners of the horse races, which comedically are shown with toy horses; and then Bluto discovers this and takes Swee’pea to help him find a sunken treasure. 


Meanwhile, Popeye is reconnected with his father, Poopdeck Pappy, who look and act nearly identically, and Popeye rescues Swee’pea and Olive Oyl while defeating the oh-so-mean Bluto. 


The movie is good fun all around and shows something that’s often lacking in filmmaking today: the pure joy and craftsmanship of “the magic of movie making.” The sets, costumes, physicality, even the songs; are so fun and creative. It’s nice to shut off your mind for a while to sit back, relax, and enjoy some classic entertainment. 


Upon arrival to Popeye Village, you are left off on a cliff overlooking the clear blue sea, looking down on a wide-shot of Sweethaven, the fictional village of the film, hovering over the waters with rocky abandon, and you’re transported back to 1979 and feel as though you were dropped into the movie. 


While kitschy, if you let go of all seriousness, this destination is a barrel full of fun! Recently, I read in National Geographic that adults need to incorporate more play into their lives. It is scientifically proven to improve health and wellbeing. If you allow for it, the Popeye Village is pure play. 

Popeye is an adaptation from a popular comic strip popularized in the early 1930s, which remained popular through the 1950s and beyond. Created by comic strip artist E.C. Segar (b. 1894, d. 1938), the character of Popeye first appeared in Thimble Theatre, a comic strip which debuted in the New York Journal at the end of 1919. At the time, Thimble Theatre was based on three characters: Olive Oyl, Castor Oyl (Olive’s brother), and Ham Gravy (Olive’s boyfriend). About a decade later, as described by signage at Popeye Village, “the story took another turn and the comic needed a sailor to navigate the ship,” hence, Popeye The Sailor Man was born when “Castor Oyl came across a one-eyed sailor.” 


Altman’s Popeye was a joint production between Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Productions. Legend has it that Paramount lost a bidding war for the movie-rights to the popular Broadway musical, Annie. As a result, Robert Evans, prominent film producer (Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Chinatown) and a longtime executive at Paramount, sought out comic-strip IP that the studio held rights to, in hopes to create a movie-musical to rival that of Annie; Popeye was the best option available. 

Evans hired Jules Feiffer to adapt Popeye for the screen. Feiffer was a cartoonist (including as a staff cartoonist for The Village Voice), satirist and author who had penned the play, Carnal Knowledge, which Mike Nichols adopted into his infamous 1971 movie. 


Initially Evans wanted Dustin Hoffman to play Popeye with Lily Tomlin opposite as Olive, directed by John Schlesinger of Midnight Cowboy fame. Allegedly, Mike Nichols, Hal Ashby and Arthur Penn were all slated to direct this movie. 

Instead, Popeye’s fate rested with Robert Altman, who’s 1970 film, M.A.S.H., put him on the map. He then directed such acclaimed films, such as McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye, Nashville, 3 Women, and The Player, before taking on Popeye


Instead of Dustin Hoffman (who didn’t like Jules Feiffer and in a rare instance the producer chose a writer over an actor), Robin Williams was chosen to play the title role. This was William’s first starring role in a movie. He had previously played the alien-just-arrived-to-earth Mork on the popular 1970s sitcom, Mork and Mindy, a spinoff character from Happy Days. Robin William’s wanted Gilda Radner to play Olive Oyl, but it ultimately went to Evan’s pick, Shelley Duval, a quirky character actress perhaps most known for The Shining. Duvall has appeared in several Altman films and in Woody Allen’s Oscar winner Annie Hall

Altman refused to work on set in studio soundstages, preferring to make his films “on location.” Hence why he built an entire set in Malta to replicate the town of Sweet Haven, where nearly all the filming took place, both interior and exterior scenes were filmed on the set-buildings designed from scratch. The actors lived on location. 


The set village remains and is a pseudo theme park-meets-interactive museum. It’s sort of like a mini-Epcot village, except based on a fictional town, though Epcot towns often feel like fictional versions of a real place. It’s designed to look cartoonish, which makes the “architecture” of the set-design fun to look at and poke around, as you can explore all you want, in and out of buildings. 


With your 15-euro entrance ticket, you get one free postcard (from the gift shop, a clever ploy to get you excited about all the Popeye Merchandise), and one free popcorn, redeemed at the village's “cinema.” Popcorn and postcards: these are two of my all time favorite things in life! I admit, I ended up buying a Popeye puppet and a Popeye T-shirt, which I am wearing as I type this piece! 


The park has characters dressed up as sailors and townsfolk, Popeye and Olive, who do shows with the guests. Each day they organize a group where you can make your own movie and then watch it in the cinema… something I didn’t feel the need to participate in, since movie-making encompasses my entire life. 


You can walk in and out of the colorful buildings (the mayor’s office, the post office, the firehouse, etc.). Each had its own mini exhibit inside. One was about the original Popeye cartoon, with various memorabilia, and you can watch the 1980 movie in full here. 


Fieffer’s Popeye script intentionally stuck closely to the original Popeye comic-strips, Thimble Theatre, as opposed to the more well-known-by-the-80s Popeye television cartoons of the 1960s and 70s. As a result, some audiences were disappointed because the movie-musical felt too different from the TV series generations had come to love, but in reality, it stuck closely to the heart of Popeye, and the original source material from Segar’s Thimble Theatre


Another building led to an exhibit about the Musical production aspect of Popeye. Harry Nillson, the composer, came to Malta with a band and they built a recording studio on set, which is almost unheard of in Hollywood productions! Nillson would watch the dailies and then compose through the middle of the night. The actors sang live in the takes (this is extremely rare) and it was all mixed right there in Popeye’s Village. 


In this same exhibit, I was delighted to come across the headshot and bio of a favorite professor of mine from NYU Tisch. It was my former screenwriting/directing teacher, Alan Nichols, who was a close friend of Robert Altman and acted in several of his films! In Popeye, Alan plays Rough House, the chef who runs the Hamburger joint in town. I directed my very first film, The Mentor. I loved seeing Alan’s name and bio on display as I have fond memories of his class as it’s possible I never would have become a film director without those experiences he and the class gave me. 


I wandered around the Popeye Village with a grin plastered to my face. I enjoyed looking at the quirky set design details that were used, with lots of comical embellishments, if you look closely enough, spread across. For instance, the Mayor’s office Opening Hours are from 11:30am - 1pm and 3:30pm-5pm: not very long or convenient if you ask me! 


Popeye’s village has activities for all ages, from a bar overlooking the pristine turquoise sea, or the cheeky “toilet paper-roll toss” game they have out for kids to play with. 


The cinema, where you can redeem your free popcorn, shows a “making of” documentary from 1999, and the lobby of the cinema displays film posters from some of the other famous movies made in Malta since Popeye. Each poster is accompanied by a TV screen showing information about the locations used to film these Blockbusters. I learned that the producers of Gladiator, for instance, had a replica of the Roman Colosseum built at 1/3rd scale (which to me sounds quite large!) at Malta’s actual Fort Ricasoli in Kakara. 


After the Popeye Village, I took an Uber to the Red Tower (St. Agatha’s Tower), built on a cliff in 1649 by the Knights of St. John, to protect the coast from invasion. There are towers like this all over Malta, though most are not red. The Red Tower looked like something you’d find straight out of Game of Thrones. I went mostly for the views, and then walked all the way back to my hotel in Mellieħa, which took me approximately 1.5 miles along the sea.  

* * * 


Like filmmaking, I run because I like it. When I run, I clear my mind. Sometimes it’s not even about clearing my mind, but rather, gathering it. Thoughts flow that allow me to access how I’m doing in life, where I stand in my projects, and what I need to do to continue moving forward. After all, millions of people before me for centuries have run marathons, and many millions more after me will do the same. 


I crossed the finish line in 4 hours and 48 minutes. I was so happy to have earned the finisher’s medal! After which, I had the desire to do nothing but change out of my wet clothes and dry off. 


My limbs would barely work, so it took me nearly 30 minutes to walk the 10-15 minutes to my hotel. 


Despite all the extra challenges this race brought me: the rains, winds, and flooding streets; the cold and dampness; I wouldn’t have changed any of it for the world! I did it, and I will never forget my first marathon in Malta and the visit to Popeye’s Village.


CISCO KID Interview 

Emily Kaye Allen is a New York–based filmmaker. 


She shares the rebel spirit of her subject ––Eileen––in CISCO KID. A beautifully sparse documentary of a queer dreamer forging their way out west, under the desert sky.

Initially filmed as a traditional observational documentary, the film soon evolved into

cinéma verité––allowing for more intimacy between the director and subject.

A quick note: since filming, Eileen has changed their pronoun to they/them.

GCC So is Cisco still known as a ghost town?

EKA Yeah. Though, it's changed a little bit since I made the film, it's been known as a ghost town. It's like an intersection; it's so small. Before Eileen bought the land there, people would roll through on their way to Moab or wherever. Since filming, someone bought the general store, which is the biggest structure that you see—in some of my shots, it's just boarded up. Now, it's an actual general store again. [Cisco’s] not totally a ghost town anymore. It was for a long time, and while I was out there, I was the only person living there besides Eileen.

GCC: How did that all come about for Eileen? How did they end up purchasing that land? What were they doing before this whole adventure, let's call it.

EKA: Eileen's originally from Milwaukee, but was living in Chicago and had been living in Chicago for a long time. Something like eight years or ten. They have always been someone that's really drawn to abandoned buildings and the past: even their record collection, their music taste. They've got great taste and knowledge of music, but it's like a lot of old and obscure stuff. They grew up with a mom who was always bringing them to thrift stores and fixing up stuff, and they've always had that love of old things, love of old buildings. They [were] going out west to travel and check out places like Moab, and someone on the plane told them there's this little ghost town they should check out, not far from there. They drove through and since they're a spontaneous person they stopped.

[At the time], they were working in Chicago, a seasonal job for the parks department in the city, gardening. They'd save up and then have a big chunk of time off to live somewhere else. They saw Cisco and happened to go on a day when no one was there, and it felt like this quiet place. They saw the house that they ended up fixing up (with its little fence), and they thought, Oh my God I love this, I want to live here, and I want to use these found materials around and make this place habitable. Somehow they managed to find the old man that owned the land, and they gave an [offer], which was not much at all. He said, “okay.”

There's no water there, the soil is not really fertile for growing things, but there was electricity that they could access. They just decided to do it on a whim. I think Chicago is rapidly—like every city—gentrifying and changing, and they felt, This is something I can own, something I can work on. I'll figure out a way to do it. I think they also had the idea in mind of a long term artist residency, which they did end up doing for some time.

GCC: This is somebody who’s a free spirit. They follow their inspiration and are kind of fearless. There are a lot of scary, vulnerable moments in the film, and I'm curious what’s the overlap between you two? Where were you at in your life when you decided to pursue this film? 

EKA: I went into it a little impulsively, too. At that time I was doing a lot of freelance as a videographer and just shooting content (at Bon Apetit, MTV Push, and The Earth Institute at Columbia to name a few) and also working at a restaurant. I really wasn’t happy shooting content; I needed a project. I hadn’t done my own project since maybe grad school. I learned of Eileen through my friend––and Eileen’s sister––Renee, and I thought, Oh I'm having this pull towards the Utah landscape, and here's this person that's doing something really interesting and unique.

When I went out to shoot, I really wasn't sure if this could be a film. I did have an idea of what it could be and also, [a sense of] we'll see when I got out there. I was really drawn to it. I liked the landscape. In some ways it isn’t beautiful—it's off the side of a road that's really dead—yet, at the same time, it is beautiful, too. In the distance you see the red rocks, and the light dramatically changes the landscape throughout the day and night. I was really missing the West. I was missing open space and that sort of vastness.

It all just aligned. I needed something creative to work on and I missed that landscape, and Eileen needed something, because she chose this strange place. We were both exploring something together—two different things, but they overlapped. Luckily, we got along. Eileen has great taste in films, too. They introduced me to The Spirit of the Beehive. What a beautiful film! We watched it together. During my first trip there, we also watched Jean de Florette, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. What struck me was how all of these films related to the landscape Eileen chose to live in, in Cisco, in some way. Eileen also loves Kelly Reichardt and on my last visit there we watched Certain Women. In fact, that film informed how I filmed the train in the opening shot of my film.

They appreciated the things I liked, and they knew I wouldn't treat it like some . . . well, the story could be told a lot of different ways: like there's a woman alone in a town [menacing voice], or man against nature, or what have you. They trusted me and that it would take a little time to find the story.

In the beginning I just used the equipment I had, which is pretty cheap stuff, and didn't try to raise money because I thought, This is happening now and I need to go capture it now because I'm sure things will change over time. I wanted to show some of that change. Had I tried to set up all that ahead of time, it would have been a different time in Eileen's life, and it would not be the same film.


GCC: You went out and shot it on your own, sound and everything?

EKA: I just had a DSLR, an audio recorder, and a shotgun mic. I edited it on my own. It took a while, and it wasn't ‘til the end, when I had a fine cut, that I was like, okay, now I need to raise some money to get a really good sound person to help—the sound needed some work—and a colorist, and the money for entering festivals and all that comes after.

GCC: How long did you shoot for?

EKA: I took four trips out there, over the course of about three, three-and-a-half years.

GCC: It's good to see what's possible when you have limited resources.

EKA: Yeah! Something I learned is that it's much harder to get a film in a festival when you do it totally alone. A lot of festivals are already tracking films from the stage of pitching the film. I think when someone really wants to get a film out there and have it be noticed, it is smarter to get on the radar early on, whether that's on one of these pitch forums that are hosted by Sundance or whatever, and that [one gets] a partner, whether that's a producer or another director, or whatever.

Every festival gets thousands of submissions. You could have a good product, a good film, you know, and it might not get noticed. My film is very specific. It's kind of a slower film. It's not about a big issue. Were I to do another film, I don't think I would do it in the way I did. But, I had to do it in that way, and I'm glad I did it, because I had to go out and start. I think I would have gotten bogged down or had a hard time if I wasn't able to get funding. I'm glad I did it that way and I'm glad of the intimacy I had with Eileen. I think that that comes across in the film, because it was just the two of us.

GCC: I appreciate you going into some of that.

GCC: When you were a kid was there a lot of desert around or was it more suburban?

EKA: No, no desert around. When I was a kid, I was in Salt Lake City, which is a small city. It's a mix of suburban and city.
We would drive to California every summer because my grandpa had a house there. My dad lived in Arizona, and I'd fly to Arizona every year. I didn't appreciate it at the time, when we would drive through those areas. I thought the landscape was all dead. It wasn't until I was in college, when I made friends with a bunch of outdoorsy people, that I finally started to appreciate those landscapes. My family wasn't outdoorsy at all.

GCC:  Yeah, I had a similar experience. I also grew up not far from that landscape, and I don't know what it is: when you spend a lot of time in the East Coast, but you grew up in the West Coast, at some point you start craving some dirt and open sky. It's almost a physical longing, or probably just a lack of vitamin D.

EKA: I know it's true.  I've had this conversation with a few people who grew up in the West, but live out here. It's similar for people who grew up by the ocean and then don't live by the ocean. They're constantly like: I need ocean. It's a physical, bodily feeling: you want to be in that landscape. I feel that way about the open space in the West—seeing mountains or just having all this space and the sun and the sky, being able to see the horizon all the time. Whereas, in New York City, you often don't even see the horizon.

GCC: You don't even see the stars much here.

EKA: You’re surrounded by buildings and people and it can feel a little limited. You have all the culture and diversity here, yet there is something about being from a specific type of land that always has that pull on you. Even though the West is also drying up, I love it.

I remember going on a river trip with a bunch of friends, [after] I started going camping, rock climbing, and things like that. On the last night, when we got away from the river, we camped in the desert and we didn't sleep in our tents. We just slept outside. I woke up in the middle of the night, because of mosquitoes buzzing in my ear, and I stood up and all I saw was just sky, nothing around and the land with these six little bodies lined up in sleeping bags. I was like, Wow, we are so small like little ants. We're just like these stars. That feeling for some people might be terrifying, but I thought it was so cool.

The desert is really beautiful, and even though it seems dead, there's a lot of life in there. You just have to spend more time there to see it.

GCC: There are some beautiful cacti flowers and [things] that grow out in the desert. . . . When I was watching the film it raised many questions, “Could I live out there on my own? Could I do that?” and silly questions, like, “Does she even have Wifi?” I think part of me would love it because I can read and watch movies all day. [Then] there were moments where I thought, “Would I go crazy?” just passing the time alone out there, by myself. It would be different if one had a partner and were doing it together.


EKA We had a lot of conversations about that. Outside of filming, just talking on the phone or in-between filming. They thought it would be a really quiet place. Turns out it's right off the road. It is quiet and more lonely in the winter. But in the spring and in the summer and fall, a lot of people are curious and drive through. You never know who's going to come through. It can be interesting, but a lot of people are doing that tourist thing, where they're just coming in to take [Eileen’s] picture, walking around [their] property, and asking the same old questions. Eileen just wants to work. There’s a funny dichotomy or tension there.

Eileen imagined more solitude, but somehow people find them. Within the first little while of living there, they met Joe, the guy who's helping Eileen with the grave (in a scene in the film). He lives two hours away, in Castle Valley, and lives off the grid. They've become close, and he's helpful and sweet.

Then the older woman, Farland, who’s on the roof with Eileen. She's this amazing woman who built her own home herself. I joke that Farland is Eileen’s fairy godmother. She lives in Moab.

Somehow these people ended up in Eileen's life; somehow community still happens. There are [still] long chunks of time where Eileen and I were totally alone. In some ways they love it—they love to work on projects—in some ways it gets really lonely. Some people prefer a solitary life more than others. Eileen really loves people, but doesn't want to just shoot the shit with anyone and doesn't want to be in a city and go out all the time. Eileen wants to find their people and work on stuff together. That's how I see them.

Eileen found a letter a woman – who used to live in Cisco – wrote. . In the letter she wrote: “Am I wasting my life here?” [Eileen thought], Whoa, am I crazy? Am I wasting my life here? But then they immediately said, “No, I don't think it's a waste: to make your own thing, to build your own life.”

There were always people passing through. Even after I left filming, they'd call me and  say,, “Oh my God, this shepherd just came through with all these sheep,” or “This whole motorcycle gang came through.” I wish I could have filmed those moments.

GCC: Oh no you missed the shepherd shot?! That was one of the beautiful things about the film, this community cropped up around them. I loved when the trucker stops and checks in on them. It's such a nice moment in the film. We always have this scary image of truckers, especially as women. When he stops and checks on them, you get the feeling that he stops every time he passes by to see if they're alright. It's this cute fatherly thing, “I just want to make sure you're still alive in there.”

They’re building a guest house too though, right? An Airbnb?

EKA: Yes, that was sweet to see. They both care about each other.

Yes. They took what was the old post office—just a little shack with a mailbox out front, with a bunch of boxes, like a mailbox unit—and they turned that into an Airbnb rental, with electricity, but no water or anything else. That's how they are making money. Then they were working on the other structure, that we see them on [the roof of] a lot in the film, to make that into an Airbnb. They did that for a while, but then eventually—even though Cisco's totally remote, technically it's part of the county of Moab—Moab started cracking down on Airbnbs, because of the hotel lobby.

GCC: Let’s go back to all the different characters in the film. For example, there's the people who stop, who she gives water to, even though she doesn't have a ton of water herself. There are a lot of interesting characters and humane moments like that: I barely have water to wash this plate, this guy's driving cross-country biking, and he's probably super dehydrated—and she gives all the water there is to give.

EKA: I was just going to say, that's where you sometimes see the tension. There are these tourists that are gawking, and then, this bicyclist, this Italian bicyclist, biking across the country. He thought he was stopping at a town where he could buy water, then realized it was a ghost town. Eileen thought, I'm going to give you water because you're not just here to gawk at me. You're doing a thing and you're nice and you need water and you're going to go for a long stretch before you're going to be able to get to another place where you can get water. Eileen takes care of people. That's the thing: even though Eileen can be prickly sometimes, they're also a caring and nurturing person. You see that, eventually, with some of their relationships with people passing through or with people like Joe or Farland.

GCC: In a way, it feels like she's the sheriff of this little town.

EKA: Yeah. I don't know if they were. They didn't plan for that or expect that, but [they, in] some ways, may be. [They embrace] it a little bit, [taking] care of themselves, [protecting] themselves. Like, okay, you're going to follow my rules. They're just trying to do their thing, and sometimes they want to control the space they're in. They really value what they have out there, and they're just trying to keep it special. Sometimes, people come in and throw that off a little. Sometimes you can't tell [that it is] even owned, because it's a ghost town. You might just walk right up all over Elieen’s space and you might not know it's their space. I think they're frustrated by that sometimes.


GCC Yes that makes sense: it is her home.

EKA There's a bit of a territorial thing going on but I think that’s natural. That happens to a lot of people when they own something, when they buy it. It's a very American thing. I think people get their property and they're like, This is mine—it's sacred—I’ve got to protect it.

GCC The voiceovers of her telling stories—which is one of my favorite elements of how you told this story—allow you hear the articles or some letters she read. There's one story about a woman standing in the middle of the road in a bathrobe. Could you tell us about that? Who was she?

EKA I could only be there so much to film; then, I would go away, and we’d talk a lot on the phone. Then, [from] Eileen, we learn more about the history of the people that lived there before them. Some of those stories were fascinating, and I wanted them to be included, because, as Eileen says, “You're not starting something new, you're continuing something.” When you move into a space, there is a history there. [In] the house Eileen moved into, a woman and her daughter lived there before, and in the trailer next to it [had been] an old man. He eventually died in that trailer. There's a lot of his stuff around. Eileen is using his tools and wears his long army jacket. His presence is very real in Eileen's life. The woman left things, too.

There's an experience out there of learning stories, reading about things, and then imagining what that would be like. You're always wondering how you're going to live through an experience like that.

GCC So when you got all the footage, did you have any sense of the structure or anything? How much experience did you have making it docs? Or did you think, I'm just going to go out there and see what I see and be open to that.

EKA My experience before was as an assistant editor on documentary films. I'd edited my own stuff and content for work. I did go out very open. The only thing I had in mind was how I wanted to film it, how I wanted it to look through the camera. When you're in a desert landscape, it is vast, and I wanted to film it that way. I had a lot of wider, static shots. I didn't want to film it handheld; I wanted to use static shots as much as I could, which is hard to do with a person that's moving around, doing their thing. But, Eileen was constantly doing things over and over again, like working on the roof, which made it easier for me to film it that way, to stick to the style I imposed on myself.

Two things happened right away that I realized that I didn't want, but had to go with it anyway.

GCC What were they?

EKA Before I started filming, I  imagined a quiet, slow observational film -- sort of like Cousin Jules. Once I started filming, I realized quickly that that wouldn't be the case.

Eileen kept talking to me all the time. At first I thought, I don't want to be a character in this. Had I told Eileen, “Don't talk, don't talk,” they probably would have followed along, but it wouldn't have been the same. There wouldn't have been that connection and the intimacy. I wanted Eileen to be as comfortable as possible. I decided, Okay, I guess I am going to be a part of this film, even though you don't see me in it.

Once I started editing, I kept thinking that this film felt more akin to some films by Les Blank and a little like Grey Gardens (not the story but the casual way in which Edie speaks with the filmmakers, the Maysles).

Also, I thought, Maybe I can play with time a little. I'm going to take all these trips, but maybe it doesn't have to be structured, in the edit, in a chronological way, but I realized I wouldn't be able to get away with that either, because Eileen kept changing their hair. It was long, then they shaved it, and then, when I came back, it was short, and then they shaved it [again]. I thought, I'm going to have to do this in the same order, in chronological time. That turned out to be fine. You know . . . I'm happy it worked out that way because I wanted to show the passage of time. I wanted the viewer to feel that time, to see how things had changed over time. It made sense to do it that way; it gave me a bit of a direction to start the edit.

GCC I thought the editing was great, and I love the sound design, how it's pretty much all ambient, and there is only music in one part. There's that dreamy sequence when she's in the red canyon and she's wandering around. I'm curious, was that something you set out to pick up or did it just happen? It’s a beautiful, blossoming moment in the film.


EKA Eileen and I went on that hike in that canyon, through those red rocks. I filmed it all and it's beautiful, and I thought, Okay, this is the only part of the film where we see sort of beautiful desert, the desert that people imagine when they're like, Oh, I'm going to go to Moab or wherever. That landscape is why Eileen initially went to that part of the U.S., to see something like that.

We were driving, on a different day, to Moab to get supplies: water and stuff. I wasn't filming, [just] listening to a mix-CD, and that song came on, and I was blown away. I had never heard that song before, and I loved it.We were driving by the river and the Red Rocks, [and I thought], This is the soundtrack. It's very dramatic. It sounds like old cinema music, but a little weirder, a little more haunting. I thought, I have to use this song. It came about organically. I needed to get rights to the song so I could put it over the hiking part.

It’s the only part in the film [where] there's a song that's intentionally put over it, and I like that, because it's also the only part of the film, visually, where you're in this dreamy desert landscape. It felt like a breath of fresh air from the rest of the tone of the film. I like that. That's how it feels when you're there. That's how I wanted it to feel in the film. I had to raise a bit of money to get that song, and I'm glad I did.

GCC The timing was perfect. It begins, and you hear the haunting intro, you see all the Red Mountains, as you turn the bend, and it is as though Clint Eastwood (or Joan Crawford!) is going to appear on a horse.

EKA That part was the only scene that was hard to figure out where to put in the film. And I knew it was going to be. I kept saying to Shannon, my partner, who came on as Producer to help me with the Kickstarter, and who works as an editor. Shannon helped me towards the fine cut, consulting. I would show her cuts and talk about it. At one point we had a bunch of cards up on the wall of the scenes and it took a minute to find the right spot, the right timing for that scene. But it worked out great.

GCC You put up cards, like index cards?

EKA Yeah. I was having a hard time figuring out the flow of each scene. Even though I was going in order of my trips and the seasons, within each season, I could rearrange things [where] they make sense in the flow of the film. It helped to just put things on the wall and talk it through, because immediately you start to see, This might be a problem or this might, before you get in and spend all the time on [the edit].

GCC Smart! I know they do that a lot in screenwriting to get all the plot and structure down. It's interesting that you applied that here, finding the narrative element in the doc.

EKA It’s hard because there’s not a strong narrative, in the traditional sense. There's not a three part structure. It's open and loose, observational. Anything I could do to help give it some shape. . . . with some documentaries you know what the structure is going to be ahead of time, some are not at all that way. It helps to be able to talk it through with someone. I’m really glad that Shannon was able to help me. She's so good at seeing the bigger picture.

GCC A good editor can save a film. Many people would stop and would often say that Eileen is so brave. I found it interesting that a lot of women would stop there, and they would always say, “You're so brave to be out here by yourself.”

EKA Women saying, “You're so brave. Are you scared?” Eileen and I talked about that a lot, how a lot of men don't have that thought. It's not an immediate thing, not to say that they don't have any fear, but  it's not the same, and that's hard for men to understand. Eileen was saying, “I would never want a man to tell my story because he just wouldn't get it.”

It's not to say that there aren't men out there that aren’t scared, it's just [that] women live in a patriarchy: we don't have as many rights; we are objectified. People try to control women. There's much more violence towards women than the other way around. This is something that I've talked to Eileen about a lot. It's difficult for women to imagine themselves doing something like Elieen’s doing. That fear, that vulnerability is always there. It doesn't go away. You just decide, I'm scared, but I'm gonna do this anyway.

Women who chose to stay a night or two in Cisco also probably felt safer because Eileen was the host (rather than a man). Then they want to talk about it: “How do you do this? Maybe there's something in my life that I'm scared about, but you're doing this. Let's talk about it.” It was an open door for a lot of women who stayed there. And Eileen [would admit], “Yeah, it is scary sometimes, yet here's all the reasons why.”

A lot of people keep a lot in and don't want to be vulnerable. Eileen's this neutral person. [People are] like, “I just met you out in the desert on my drive. I'm never going to see you again, and you're making me feel comfortable here. So, I'm going to share something I'm going through.” It's therapeutic for them. Whether Eileen likes it or not, or feels okay about it or not, they're a person people are opening up to.

GCC [Eileen’s] building something. It [makes] me wonder . . . I want to touch that part of me; I want to be out in the land, like you were saying in the beginning. They're scrappy. They’re working with her hands. I was amazed. How [do they] know how to freaking build this thing? There was something about that that I appreciated, because even women have that want. In society, we're not the ones [usually] out there doing that sort of thing, so it’s fascinating to see this.

EKA I think, in general, in our society, we're bound by learned behavior, that we don't think we can. We're told we can't do certain things or that certain spaces don't belong to us. That happens with gender. It happens with race. It happens with all kinds of things.

After I made this, a friend sent me an article I loved—and I wish I could remember the author's name—about the road trip: films about the road, stories about  the open road and how it's such a male narrative and has been for so long, that when women are out on the road, suddenly they're threatened. Are they going to be murdered or going to be raped? It's such a strong narrative, that's been in our culture for so long that it can be hard for people to imagine something different, for women to imagine, I don't have to feel scared out here.

Eileen's totally scrappy, just figuring things out, improvising. I think that's what makes people admire them so much. Myself included. I think there's a part of that in everyone. But we're scared of doing it because it's unconventional or it's a big risk. We all have that in different ways.  And by seeing Eileen doing it, the viewer can explore that idea for themselves. Oh!? Eileen's doing that . . . what's that thing for me?

GCC And it's beautiful that she was kind of a symbol for that. Before we go––who’s Ernie?

EKA Ernie was the old man that lived and died in the trailer. [It] turns out Cisco is in Thelma and Louise. Ernie is in the film: the old man sitting there as an extra when [Thelma and Louise] are there, right towards the end, with the infamous drive off the cliff. And Eileen uses the stuff that that guy used; he's a presence in Eileen's life. When Eileen told me about this I said, “Of course I've seen Thelma Louise,” but I hadn't watched it in a long time and I didn't remember him. Eileen showed me and it was great to see the person that was there before, and in such a funny context. That's such a classic movie—I love that movie—about women being independent and this idea of freedom, escaping these norms. And it's in the West. It makes sense, [for this] to be in my film, that little scene.



GCC It was a cool connection, I love Thelma and Louise. . . . Well, what's next for you and the film?


EKA We did the festival run—just a few—and that was great. It's going to be online: by the end of January. Fandor, which is a streaming site, acquired it. It will be available on Prime and Apple TV, too. They want to launch it around Slamdance, since it played at Slamdance last year.

GCC Do you want to make another film?

EKA Yes and no (laughs).The thing that got me into film is photography, which was a huge passion of mine, which I abandoned for many, many years. I kind of want to work on a photography project. But … I constantly have film ideas, so we'll see!

GCC Last question: Who are some of your favorite photographers?

EKA Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Deana Lawson to name a few. Stephen Shore was a big influence in how I filmed the landscape of Cisco (a lot of static, wide shots with a deep depth of field). The vast desert landscape itself was also a big influence.

But … I constantly have film ideas, so we'll see!



Find out more and watch Cisco Kid at 

Americana amongst varying landscapes and terrain

Photo essay by Ella Kaplun

Ella is an explorer, thinker and creator who loves to express herself through photography and writing. @ellakaplun

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Ginger Snaps: Womanhood by way of Toothy Transformation 

by Caitlin Brehm 


The most frightening horror movies are those that showcase the complicated trials and tribulations of teenage girlhood: puberty, dating, high school, oh - and werewolves. At least that’s what we see play out for Ginger and Brigitte in Ginger Snaps (2000), directed by John Fawcett and written by Karen Walton. This film could be dismissed as a teenage werewolf B-sploitation-flick, yet within it resides an essential case study in how important female voices are to the horror genre.


In the beginning of the film we are introduced to the Fitzgerald sisters, Ginger and Brigitte, two teenagers who share a close bond, as well as a  macabre fascination with all things dead and dying. Meanwhile, a string of mysterious dog killings, vicious and animalistic in nature, has plagued their small town. 


One night, Ginger gets her first period, as the girls are on their way to kidnap the dog of their high school bully. The scent of her fresh blood,  results in Ginger drawing the attack of  a  mysterious creature. Just as suddenly, the creature is struck by a local pot-head/chemist, Sam, driving his van.


After the attack, Ginger begins undergoing the classic werewolf transformation. If you are a fantasy nerd like me, you know the signs: wounds healing with inhuman speed, aggressive mood swings, sudden body hair growth, and even the additional growth of a tail . These sudden changes can obviously be seen as a metaphor for a young girl going through the bodily changes and joys of puberty. Being a girl in high school can sometimes feel like you’re an otherworldly creature. 


In addition to her lycanthropic symptoms, Ginger experiences changes in her confidence and sexuality. Suddenly, her sex appeal has skyrocketed and she begins dating a classmate, who also, eventually, catches  the werewolf affliction, bizarrely receiving his own bloody menstrual flow.  


In an abundance of sisterly concern, Brigitte seeks out Sam’s help, as Ginger’s symptoms worsen by the day. Ginger, embracing her new, half-girl half-werewolf identity, allows herself to be estranged from her sister and does not seem to want her help. 


The film climaxes as Brigitte and Sam finally concoct a cure and plan to inject it in Ginger. However, by this time, Ginger has completed her transformation and is no longer human. The three teens meet in a showdown at the Fitzgerald home, ending in an emotional scene between the sisters, juxtaposing the gulf between them and their previous harmony, shown as the camera pans over photos of the sisters on display in their bedroom. This movie gave me a lot more than I bargained for. I went into it expecting some B-grade werewolf fun and, instead, was met with a thoughtful portrayal of the young female experience. The sisters’ relationship is everything a realistic sibling relationship should be: close-knit, competitive, envious at times, and above all willing to die for each other.


My favorite quote in the film comes from a scene in which the girls bury a body together. As Brigitte expresses her concerns about being caught, Ginger retorts, “A girl can only be a slut, bitch, tease, or the virgin next door. We’ll just coast on how the world works.”  As I said in my Letterboxd review: “This line walked so that America Ferrera’s Barbie monologue could run.” A touch of hyperbole, but I still stand by it. This line in Ginger Snaps resonated because it reminded me just how vexed girls are, the first time they find out how the patriarchal world works. As Ginger sought to exploit the way this system sees them to their advantage, I thought– “hell yeah!” They may be burying a body, but when women have to live with the weight of being less-than from the day we’re born, we might as well flip the script when life is on the line . 


Years after its arrival, Ginger Snaps still influences female-centered horror. Jennfier’s Body, which has seen a cult resurgence in recent years, tackles similar ideas and dynamics. The relationship between Jennifer and her sister, Needy parallels that of Ginger and Brigitte. Ginger’s menstrual cycle is centered as an integral part of her transformation, as Jennifer’s growing sexuality acts as an integral part of hers. Both Ginger and Jennifer begin to thrive in their newfound identities, while younger sisters Brigitte and Needy, look on in horror, and in awe, of their sisters’ new, ravenous abilities and personalities. Brigitte and Needy both fear Ginger and Jennifer, yet are determined to help them return to their original human state.


Through female identity, puberty, sexuality, and sisterhood, Ginger Snaps explores the complexity of womanhood by way of werewolf transformation, a unique feminine-driven dive into the horror genre. Ginger Snaps is a must-watch for anyone interested in horror films and the role women play in the genre  . . . afterall, both get bloody, even gory, at times! 

Art by Seth Paradox​

The Color of Pômme by Dale Kaplan

I wore ripped jeans, a peasant shirt and orange love beads the first time I saw L'une chante, l'autre pas (One Sings, The Other Doesn’t). That was many years ago when I was young and in love with my college sweetheart who introduced me to foreign films. We watched the movie atLincoln Square Cinema on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Unfortunately, this theater no longer exists. After the film we took the D train back to Brooklyn,I can guarantee that we stopped at Dubrow’s Cafeteria for strawberry cheesecake and a serving of egg noodles with mounds of cottage cheese. Both items were equally fattening and fabulous. An actress with beautiful red hair and exquisite shots of Iran, were all I remembered about the movie. Seeing the movie again, now, I can say I was accurate on both counts. 


One Sings, The Other Doesn’t explores the lives of two French women, Suzanne and Pauline. The film takes place in the mid-1970s, during a time of social unrest in France. The women’s liberation movement was in high gear, and the right to an abortion was a central demand. Although I found parts of this film dated, it was sad and shocking to me that women in America are once again facing the same challenges, due to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the film actually has as much relevance today as it had so many years ago.


Ostracized from her family, Suzanne is unmarried and lives with her photographer partner and their two young children. Her lover makes little money photographing women, in his questionable pursuit of seeking “Woman in her naked truth,” with some of the women posing with exposed breasts. Suzanne is in love with him, even though he is irresponsible and fails to support their family. Struggling financially and completely distraught, Suzanne confides to Pauline that she is pregnant–again–when they meet for the first time in years.


Proactive Pauline, who is in her last year of high school, takes control of the situation. As the two friends weigh the options of a back alley abortion or a trip to Switzerland, where under certain circumstances abortion was legal, they decide on the latter. Pauline’s unwavering devotion to Suzanne becomes quickly apparent as she painlessly deceives her parents with a story about needing money for a school trip. They provide her the cash; but eventually the truth surfaces. An argument ensues and Pauline decides to leave home. Rebellious and free spirited, she can no longer live under the conservative confines of her father’s rule and moves in with a friend. Pauline is an archetypal symbol of the times, a poster child of the revolution.


When tragedy ensues, Suzanne, who has no practical skills to support herself and her children, has no other option but to return to her parents farm in the country. The two women part ways physically but never lose touch. Throughout the film, the simple postcard becomes their communication lifeline. “Love without headaches” is how they define their friendship.


One of the most moving sequences is watching Suzanne learning how to type. A kind social worker lends her an old typewriter, but her recalcitrant father is annoyed by the banging of the vintage machine and banishes her from practicing at the kitchen table. Suzanne moves to the barn where we see her practicing with a bale of hale for a table, a huge cow by her side. Animals are so non-judgemental.


[Typical of French cinema, no matter the circumstances the women always look naturally gorgeous without pretension. I always desired to look like a French actress from an independent movie.


Time passes and Suzanne eventually opens a Family Planning Center in a gym, between the summer and winter pools. She is in the south of France, where sunshine reigns, and the location reflects her greatly improved state of existence. While Suzanne focuses on her financial independence, maintaining the family planning clinic, and on ensuring a stable home for her children, Pauline, who eventually changes her name to Pômme (“Apple”), focuses on a career in music and avant-garde performance. The costumes are ethereal and her drive to create is ripe with passion and determination.


Pômme soon finds herself in a parallel predicament to Suzanne’s and finds it medically necessary to travel outside of France, this time to Amsterdam. Just as Suzanne found a liberating camaraderie with her fellow workers, Pômme finds it with the other patients at the clinic. They all sleep in a bunk bed dorm-style hostel together and take a boat trip, touring the canals of the city, the day before their procedures.This powerful experience inspires Pomme to write her first song. It is also where she meets Darius, her new-foundIranian love. Empathetic toward the plight of the women, he is the one who arranges the boat trip and comes along for the ride.


Back in France, Darius works as an economist, while Pômme focuses on her singing career.When funding for along-rehearsed performance falls through, Darius suggests that Pômme return with him to Iran for an extended vacation.


[As an artist/designer I can certainly relate to this typeof disappointment. When a client did not come through after booking me for an exclusive, I threw a 12”-diameter thermometer with a photo of a cow across the room of my 1000 sq. ft. studio. It was a favorite object of mine. I still miss it to this day.]


The scenes of Iran are as gorgeous as I remembered. The landscape and colorful markets, entwined with the couple’s young love, are candy for the eyeballs. However, one instinctively realizes this situation is not destined to last. Iran is not the place fora young singer, interested in the avant-garde and women’s rights, to pursue the dreams she is unwilling to give up. Pregnant, Pômme goes back to France. Pômme is joyful to be physically close to Suzanne again, and Suzanne is excited to be there for Pômme’s first birthing. Darius follows after, to be there when Pômme gives birth. Yet the couple cannot resolve their cultural preferences, and a shocking and unusual family decision is made.


Beautiful Pômme, with the stunning red hair, that I never forgot in many years, makes a number of tough decisions in her life, while always being a mutually devoted friend to Suzanne. An independent soul, through and through, she remains true to her revolutionary spirit and continues her life on the road, sharing motherhood with her all-girl-and-one-man band. OneSings, The Other Doesn’t  bears a palpable emotional relevance for modern America. May it inspire us in our own, varied, revolutionary spirits.


Dale Kaplan is a textile artist and writer. She is a native Brooklynite and publishes the website 

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Yume: the Dreams of a Lifetime a review by Seth Paradox


Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams [Yume(夢)] is a fitting film for 21st Century audiences to be introduced to one of the greatest directors of the 20th Century. Kurosawa’s directorial career spans from 1943 to 1993, with five years of work as Assistant Director leading up to it. Yume, his third-to-final film, comes after 27 feature films, including, just prior to it, his greatest masterwork,Ran (which essentially translates as“chaos”), an adaptation of King Lear. He will direct just two more films after Yume. This timing is important, as Yume is the sole film in which Kurosawa focuses on himself, and it comes after a lifetime of craftsmanship, and there by, it gives a deep view into of his values and voice.


Kurosawa, as an artist, was vocally interested in ceaseless, albeit seasonal, growth, feeling that once a person believed themselves complete, they were done with life. This idea, he paired with his interest in speaking through his films to the younger generation, both men and women, which could be seen in the directness of his—even, at times, fourth-wall breaking—appeals to the audience and in the vital space which he created for the, often, younger actors, where they were given license to bring forth their depths. Kyoko Kagawa, who starred in two of his films, said that working with Kurosawa and his ensemble was the sole place she felt fulfilled as an actor.


Coming from a traditional samurai household, and inspired by his mother and sister—and, in particular, the latter’s love of poetry—while being immersed in global literature, theater, and film via his father’s and brother’s influences, Kurosawa brought a unique vision to the world, one that stood firm in the rich traditions of Japanese culture and in the cultural wealth of the West.


Yume serves as a marvelous autobiography, literally full of wondrous things: luminous fields of flowers, enchanting entities, and heartfelt relationships, among the mix. The film arises from the mind of an 80-year-old artist, one who could still ‘write’ with cinematographic freshness. Todd Haynes’ avant-garde biography of Bob Dylan, I’m Not There—which never once mentions the Nobel-Prize-winning song writer by name, which instead has multiple actors, including an, as ever, show-stealing Cate Blanchet, play different ‘spiritual essences’ of Dylan—could be seen as a comparable, refracted look at the many-faced-jewel of an artist; however, with. Yume, Kurosawa is looking at, and sharing, himself: he is spiritually naked for his audience, those of us in the proceeding generations.


As a reflection of that multifaceted gem, the film is split into various, chronologically ordered chapters—each based on an actual, recurring dream of Kurosawa’s—creating a journey, that somehow retains an essential non-linearness. Knowing he is nearing the end of this life, Kurosawa—who died in 1998, creating no new works in his final six years—was willing to embrace some sense of being ‘finished’,enough to paint his own portrait, creating this resonant, abstract film, that suggests a brightness beyond even passing.


Meditating on death moves as a keen current, flowing through much of—perhaps all of—Kurosawa’s work, from his first feature, Sanshiro Sugata, to the world-wide phenomenon, Rashomon, and right up to and through Ran and Yume. Practices devoted to such facing of death—of impermanence—were well woven into Japanese culture, and especially woven into samurai culture, arising out of a Buddhist ethoson how to view life, inspiring a recognition of the preciousness of the present moment, of the fact that the peach blossoms will be here for a time and then gone until the next cycle.

With all of this, Yume is an often sweet, and occasionally whimsical piece, punctuated by the horror of war—mirroring the punctuation of WWII in 20th century Japanese life—and by the fallout of that. Each of the eight chapters begins with the written phrase “こんな夢を見みた,” “such a dream, [I] saw.”From this, English speakers can draw a sense of the evocative way in which what we would call “having a dream” is imagined in Japanese. How well that plays into the nature of cinema and its shared relationship with dreams. Both use language that transcends symbols, creating “an artistic image [that]is not to be deciphered, [being] an equivalent of the world around us,” to borrow a phrasing from Russian auteur, Andrei Tarkovsky.


Throughout Yume, Kurosawa can also be seen to relate to a sense of “life is but a dream,” as the English children’s song puts it. Life has magic. Spirits inhabit the dreams of Yume; the protagonist, Akira—which means “bright”—meets kitsune(fox spirits), the spirits of departed, beloved trees, the embodiment of a storm, and spirits of the dead, famous and forgotten. As such, there is a strong sense of spiritual reckoning and redemption in this story. Akira must atone for some transgression made in his youth—perhaps even in a past life—and through his life choices, between the chapters of the dreams, comes through his trials of purgation, and perhaps the weighing of the levity of his heart against a feather.The first chapter begins with a maybe-six-year-old version of Akira, who is admonished by his mother—played by an actor who was, it is reported, directed to imitate Kurosawa’s mother’s mannerisms—not togo wandering in the weather of mixed sunshine and rain, as the kitsune hold their weddings in this kind of weather and are zealous guards of their privacy.


Naturally, the curious young boy wanders into the woods—and what woods they are; Kurosawa has ever had a facility for filming nature, and especially woods, with a sumptuousness that evokes the ordinary-magic of such spaces. The rain—a notorious challenge to film well—and sun, radiant through the immense, ruddy columns of cedar, set a perfect stage for the kitsune. Looking something likeWestern notions of fae, albeit with vulpine features and all genders sporting mustaches, the kitsune, marrying en masse it seems, parade through the forest with a vigilant formality. Every few synchronized steps, they stop and quickly scan the environment. With the barest modicum of concealment, young Akira is spotted and flees.


Returning home, his mother refuses him entry, saying, “you went and did something you shouldn’t have. I can’t let you in, now.” An angered kitsune has left Akira a dagger with which to commits eppuku, a ritual suicide. His mother commands him to run and ask the kitsunes’ forgiveness, which they are rare to give, or die. And thus, the young boy wanders into the world, seeking an absolution. We leave this dream as he walks through a rainbow gateway.


In Yume, women form the essential community Akira is part of, and feminine power is ever evident, even when made known through absence. Akira’s mother sets the spiritual moral-standard to which he must rise; later, it is the feminine spirits that advocate for him in his grief or that work to dissuade him from a martial path. It is Akira who must learn to find his right-action and right-livelihood from their example.


Going from the spiritual relationship with his mother as guardian and arbiter of his honor, in our next chapter, we find the boy, Akira, some years older. While dressed for a holiday, bringing food to his sister and her friends, he admires the ornate dolls that line the walls; yet, one seems to be missing. When he then notices an unfamiliar girl in a pink kimono in an adjacent room, he enquires of his sister, who is she? His sister thinks he may be feverish, as, unseen by anyone else, the girl has disappeared. 


Spotting the girl outside, Akira sets out after her, despite his sister shouting—in reflection of the previous dream—“where are you going; you’re not allowed out.” He follows the bright-coloured girl to a grassy hillside, where a coterie of well-dressed spirits—which look like the ornate dolls come to life—move to block his way. The leaders, a man and woman, inform him they will never return to his house, because Akira’s family have cut down the peach trees that once held the hillside. The spirits assert that the holiday being celebrated is meant to celebrate the peaches and their blossoms. Akira weeps, free with his genuine emotion. He cries because he loved the trees, and they are gone. This true love and willingness to bear his sorrow allows the audience insight into Akira’s, and thus Kurosawa’s, true heart.


As the chapter closes, Akira sees the girl once more and she becomes one small, remaining peach tree, about the boy’s size, in full blossom. We freeze frame on the boy’s face and fade to black, in what could very well be a reflection of the end to Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows [Le Quatre Cents Coups], knowing Kurosawa’s love for great European art.


It is interesting to note: in cinema theory, freeze frames like this are often read as an act of death, or death suspended, such as in the ending of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kidor the more recent Korean film, The King and the Clown [Wang-ui Namja (왕의남자)]. Hereon, the child version of Akira will be left behind. What is the death of childhood in the story of a life?


As Yume changes through the seasons of a life, ceremonies become a resounding pattern throughout—beginning with the kitsune wedding, then the celebration of the peaches—forming a thread of care and reverence for life, its most important moments, which leavens the film and shares a genuine joie devivre.


As a counter-woven thread, spirits return in every piece, whether as embodiments of elemental powers, asyurei—“faint spirits” which have unsettled business or emotions—as ogerish monsters, or as inspirational figures, which the film’s artist—whether Akira, the subject, or Kurosawa, the sensei, theMaster, telling the story—grapples with, sometimes literally, as he treks towards the summation of this life.


What we find at the end of his journey is surprising. What happens is unremarkable, yet is awesome inits embodiment of a fulsome Spring upon the Earth and within the artist. It returns us to the vernal season in which we met Akira, suggesting something has been restored, something that can perhaps be experienced because we have been through Summer, Fall, and Winter. Rebirth, as an essential inevitability.


When you watch Yume, especially should you have yet to see any other of Akira Kurosawa’s works, perhaps then go watch the other films, in no hurry to arrive anywhere, until you come back, once more, to Yume, toDreams. That journey, played out in a non-linear unfurling and returning, full circle, to the end, will give you a special insight into an art and into an artist. Insight that can be as deep as Kurosawa’s love for humanity, that which permeates each shimmering, stitched-together, silver-halide frame of his films. 


Seth Paradox is a writer/director and SAG-E actor living in Los Angeles. You can follow him on Instagram @sethparardox

Art by Karyssa Nguyen

The Wobblies is a documentary about the IWW—the International Workers of the World—the first labor union in the U.S. We sat down with the Director, Deborah Shaffer, to discuss how The Wobblies came to be, and what it takes to have a career as a documentary filmmaker.


Shaffer’s films includeTo Be Heard, Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements, Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack, and she is currently co-producing My Underground Mother.


Interview by Kiran Chitanvis


GCC: So what was the moment in your life where you realized, “I want to be a filmmaker?”


DS: I never aspired, when I was much younger, when I was studying, to be a filmmaker.When I was in school, it wasn't particularly something people did, going to film school, especially to make documentaries. I did, randomly, take an 8mm film production class.

I was at a small girl’s college in New England, and there was another college nearby that was offering an evening class. I don't remember anything about that class or it influencing me, but there was this seed of something.I really got into film through activism. In the late 60s, early 70s, I became an active participant in the anti-war movement. But, I wasn't so comfortable being a real, out-front rabble-rouser myself, and I met a group of people who were making political films. They were members of a group called NEWSREEL, which still exists. I fell in with theNEWSREEL people, and I was just amazed by the power of their documentaries. We formed our own little group, in Ann Arbor, of NEWSREEL. We had a collective, and we all moved into a house together. We went out every night and showed films at labor unions, at high schools, at churches, just against the walls of buildings. There would always be a discussion afterwards, and it was a very exciting time.

The films had such power to motivate people: to talk, to take action. Often, there would be a march right after; the film would end, and we would march somewhere.Somebody at NEWSREEL started teaching me how to do little things, and it turns out that I loved the craft of filmmaking as much as I loved what films could do. Little by little, I started learning more about making the films. I ended up drifting to New York. I had finished college, and I didn't really know what I was going to do; I came to New York, like everybody. I had a friend who was living here, and I was able to live in her apartment with her, on the Lower East Side. She was going to art school, and I was trying to figure out what to do. I couldn't get a job. I tried and tried and tried. I couldn't get a job in publishing. Iended up just hanging around at the NEWSREEL office, and they didn't really want new members. They said, “We're not taking them.” But, they finally felt sorry for me. I was hanging around so much, and because I knew how to do things, like run the rewinds and clean the prints–it was all 16mm–they took pity on me and let me join the group. That was my film school.I remember going out to cover a Young Lords demonstration with three or four of us; somebody was shooting, and, at some point, they handed me the camera and said, “Here, you shoot." I said, “What? Me?” Mostly though, at that time, I gravitated towards doing sound. I did a lot of sound recording. It was separate: separate camera and sound.

Eventually, I gravitated towards editing. I really, really loved film editing. I loved cutting andpasting and figuring out: Where's the story in here? How do you put the pieces together? How do you get from A to B to C? How do you build an arc? I just put all the pieces of the puzzle together. That's still one of my most favorite parts of filmmaking, figuring it out: taking real life and shaping it into a kind of story that reflects reality and has meaning.


GCC: Through your persistence of filmmaking, was there ever a moment you thought you were going to make a living with this?


DS: When I was in the NEWSREEL collective, which I was a member of for maybe two years, in New York, I guess you could call it making a living. Well, I did have some outside work to earn money. I was a temp. I would get these calls from a Wall Street company, an agency where I was registered, and they say, “Go to this company,” and I would go there, and for a day I would basically do data entry or typing. It was crummy work, but it paid hourly, and I made enough money to pay my rent. I didn't need very much money then. Later, I became an Assistant, and I started synching dailies for money. Somehow, somebody offered me the opportunity at an editing room. I worked the overnight shift on some massive documentary for public television. I worked the overnight shift. I did a couple of different jobs like that and assistant-edited here and there. I realized that I loved editing, and I was debating whether I should figure out a career, wondering,”Maybe I should go to school in public health?” That was a big era in my mid-twenties, where I was debating whether I should go into public health or to stick with film. I realized I really loved filmmaking, and that I could make a living as an Editor or, initially, as an Assistant Editor. And that's what I did for many, many years. I worked on tons of projects at CBS Television.It paid very well. It was a union job; they paid hourly and there was always overtime and golden time. I was able to make a lot of money editing. I worked about half the year as an editor, and about half the year I worked on my own projects.I was able to support my filmmaking habit by editing. The films, themselves, were supported by grants, always. The grants were rarely enough to pay a salary. Every now and then. I was lucky enough, though: I have had a partner since my early twenties, a partner who actually was very supportive of the work I did. And there were times I was supportive of his work. He was also in freelance, in a different field. There were times when he supported both of us, and there were times when I supported both of us. That was a while before we had a child, but this became something we had to work out:how to raise a daughter, take care of a family, and have enough income to both pursue our work.


GCC: That is great. I appreciate your candid response. I think that a lot of people don't give an honest answer as to how much other work one has to do while at the same time one is pursuing one’s passion.


DS: You mean the economic part of it? One of the pieces of advice I always give my students in film school is to learn a craft. “I know you want to be a director, but I think it's very important to have a skill by which you can support yourself.” I once heard FredWiseman speak, when I was teaching at NYU; Wiseman was addressing a group of  documentary students, and somebody asked a question: “How do you support yourself asa documentary filmmaker? How can you?” And he said, “Marry rich,” which was half a joke. It is an expensive profession to choose.

I wouldn't advise people to marry rich. I mean, sure, if you can. But, you need a side gig; you need a way to support yourself. Though, the field is changing a lot. Right now, a lot of documentarians are making more commercial documentaries, which pay. The big streamers are hiring documentarians to make series. That pays well, if you're lucky enough to get one of those. Many of the top documentarians are doing that now.


GCC: What is The Wobblies about?


DS: I was no longer working at NEWSREEL, but somebody I had known when I was in NEWSREEL, Stu Bird, co-wrote a play called “The US vs. William D. Haywood, et al.”,which is about the Wobblies. I, somehow, saw a notice about this play, and he was performing it at the Hudson Guild Theater, a theater owned and run by a labor union in Chelsea.I knew about the Wobblies themselves because somebody, when I was at NEWSREEL, had given me a book called Mill Town. It's a small picture book about the strike inLawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912, and it tells the story of the IWW. The book had been published in the 1950s and was banned for being a communist book. I was shocked by that, and I was shocked that I had never heard of the IWW. I'd never heard of this strike inLawrence. It was a major textile strike in New England. It's where the phrase “Bread and Roses” came from. Women played a major role in the strike, and they came up with this slogan, “We want bread and roses too,” which is just one of the most beautiful slogans anybody has ever come up with. So, when I saw that somebody I knew had co-written a play about the IWW, I went to the play, and it was a wonderful play. That night, there were a couple of old Wobblies, who lived in the area and had come to the play; they were all hanging around afterwards, very enthusiastic. One of the authors of the play was Stu Bird, who had been in Detroit when I was in Ann Arbor, and I knew him when he was making another film. We had never worked together, but I looked at him that night, and I said, “Stu, somebody needs to do a film about these people.” They were very elderly at the time.The IWW were really an unknown quantity, and here were these living people who weren't going to be around for much longer. I had to work to convince them that it was a good idea. We just started interviewing the people who had come that night. Stu had met several old IWW people in the process of writing the film, and we kept going with them. We recruited a camera person named Judy Arrow–one of the first, prominent women cinematographers–who sadly passed away. She had a small grant to do a film that she wasn't going to do, and she said, “Let's all throw that in, let's use it.” We used her small grant to do our first handful of interviews and created a fundraising reel that we could show people to raise money. And that was it: we were off to the races. We ended up recruiting former members of the IWW all over the United States. We were fortunate enough and we worked hard, and we got a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which is a significant production grant. It enabled us to do the film and to travel the entire United States the following summer, to film all the former IWW members. Then the film premiered at the New York Film Festival in 1979, which was–looking back on it–amazing. Then the film was released in theaters all around the country.This was before there was the Internet. There was no virtual release. You could only see it in theaters.


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GCC: How did your background in activism play a role in how you came to The Wobblies?

DS: Definitely! My role in activism has played a role in everything I've done, my entire life. Inspired by that most important politically influential era of the late Sixties, early Seventies, initially, I was drawn to the student movement, because of the war in Vietnam. That was the big thing for people of my generation. The men my age were being drafted. Then, the second wave of the Women's Movement came up, right around 1969. I remember reading an essay written by Robin Morgan, called “Goodbye to All That,” and it was one of those moments where the scales fell from my eyes, and I thought “Oh! I see what's going on here.”The article is about how women were second class in all these movements. When I first started in NEWSREEL, we still weren't the filmmakers, for the most part. The women were the office organizers and the bookkeepers and the coffee makers and the girlfriends. The organization was still very much male-dominated; although, there were some powerful women in the organization. They had a big influence on me.The thing that the Women's Movement injected into my life, into the life of many other people like me, is the idea that our personal problems are also political problems. That stopped this separation between what goes on in the-world-out-there of activism and what goes on in the-world-in-here of your private life.I brought that with me when I startedThe Wobblies in 1977. I left NEWSREEL in the early seventies, and I formed a filmmaking company with several other women who had been in the organization. We were called Pandora Films, and I believe we were one of the first groups of women who were making films, documentary films, independently. I know inNew York City, there were a handful of others, the women who later formed a group calledNew Day Films, and then there were Emily Rothschild and Julia Reichert, who were making films out in Ohio.


GCC: I understand it has been added to the Library of Congress. Very exciting.


DS: SoThe Wobblies was released in 1979 and had a really solid distribution. We were able to sell it internationally on television. It was never on television in the U.S.,unfortunately. That could still change. But, we sold it well internationally, and then it went to an educational distributor. Then, after a certain time, it went to another one, and eventually it fell out of distribution. In 2003, I applied for a grant from the New York Women in Film and Television Film Preservation Fund to restore the film. I worked as part of a program, restoring films made by women. We did the film preservation in 2004, and we showed the film at Lincoln Center, again, a few times. It was great, and the film was being distributed on DVD. In 2018, somebody from the New York Women in Film and Television PreservationCommittee arranged a screening of The Wobblies at Union Docks in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I showed up for the screening with my partner, Stu Bird, and there were only about 40 of us there. It was a small screening. We hadn't seen the film in many years, at that time, and I think we were shocked that night by how relevant the film seemed to the problems that the country was facing then, especially issues of immigration, gender 

discrimination, and labor issues. It really was shocking. It didn't seem as much like a history film as much as a most relevant set of circumstances for today's world. We looked at each other that night and said, “We really should get this film out again.” That led to two things: one was the effort to further preserve it and make a digital version of it; and the other, was the campaign to get it included in the National Film Registry, which is in theLibrary of Congress.We campaigned hard to make that happen. You have to get the public to vote for you.Anybody can vote. We campaigned hard among our friends and colleagues. We also got a lot of scholars and film critics, people who had used the film over the years, and people who had shown the film to write letters on our behalf to the Library of Congress to support the nomination. It succeeded! This was the second time we had campaigned, but we campaigned much harder the second time and more thoroughly. We are very, very proud of that film.At the same time we were working on the idea of doing a 4K restoration. After we did the original film restoration, I donated the negatives to the Museum of Modern Art. I went to them and said, “I'd like to borrow back my negatives; I want to raise money to do a digital4K restoration.” They said, “We'll do it.” The rerelease of The Wobblies just happened in May of 2022. We have relaunched, and, in a way, it saddens me that the film is still so relevant. The film is almost more relevant now than when we made it, in 1979. Conditions in this country have changed so much for working people. We released The Wobblies in ‘79, right before Reagan was elected, when something like 17% of the labor force in the United States belonged to unions. Now it's less than 10%. Reagan set about to destroy labor unions.One of the first thing she did as president was to go after the air traffic controllers when they went on strike, firing them all and breaking the union.A combination of economic factors in this country–the decline of heavy manufacturing, the job flight overseas–has all contributed to breaking the back of labor unions, the back of the working people, so that people no longer have the kinds of decent industrial jobs they had 20, 30, or 40 years ago, where they could earn a decent salary, retire with a pension, and support a family on one salary. The issues are still, unfortunately, very much with us and have yet to be solved.I look forward to a day whenThe Wobblies really is a piece of history, when it's quaint, when we can look back and say, “Oh, wasn't it too bad how people lived then?”


GCC: On that historical note, I remember at the Metrograph screening for The Wobblies, you were mentioning the use of voice over in documentaries–a style that Ken Burns is often credited for–and how you and your team were perhaps the pioneer women who may have started that . . .


DS: One of the challenges we faced in doing The Wobblies was that the leaders of the organization were all long dead, so we couldn't interview them, but we felt it was important to include them. I mean, we were doing a people's history. We were doing a ground-up, oral history kind of film, yet we couldn't ignore the leadership entirely. Because my partner, Stu, had written that play, it was like this idea of dramatic readings was somehow in the air. And we hit upon the idea of having actors read some of the statements of the people who we couldn't actually interview: the words of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn or Big Bill Haywood or even some of the people who were in opposition to the IWW, you know, Rockefeller, John Astor and all these capitalists who were against the IWW. Now, it seems so commonplace. We are all used to having dramatic readings in documentaries, but I don't believe it had been done before that. I can't think of a single example that had been done before that. I'm fond of pointing out to people that this was ten years before The Civil War came out, which is Ken Burns best film. He had made other films before that, but that's the series that really put him on the map, with all the beautiful voiceover readings and music. But, we did it before that with The Wobblies.  At the time, historical documentaries were still kind of like a classroom, while people were making, already by the early sixties, interesting and fantastic cinema verité current documentaries: Maysles and Leacock, and Penne baker, and those guys. There were things like Salesman and Gray Gardens, and other vibrant cinema verité films. However, we were in the very forefront of the movement, with The Wobblies for changing  the nature of historical documentaries.


GCC: Wonderful! Finally, I would love to know if you have any advice for young fans, who are coming up and want to pursue a career in either documentary or filmmaking in general?


DS: I can tell you the most important quality I think you need to be a documentary filmmaker is persistence. You have to want to do it so badly that you can't not do it, and you can’t take no for an answer. You just have to keep at it, and keep at it, and keep at it and keep at it. I tell people, if you're going to ask a question, to ask people to do something for you, try to ask in such a way that doesn’t make it a yes or no question.Always try to leave the door open. Always leave a crack open and so you can go back from another angle and try to find another way in. Making documentaries is a labor of love:you have to be in love with your subject; you have to be in love with the work. One of the things that I personally love about it, is that it's a collaborative art form. I'm not a solo artist.I'm not. I could never be a painter or a poet. I could never sit in a room by myself for hours, and hours, and hours and try to solve problems. I love the collaborative nature of film making; you figure it out with somebody. I work very, very closely with my DP's, with my editors. My editor on the last film, Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack, she started as the editor and she became my co-director. It's that's a wonderful award of filmmaking is the kind of collaboration that exists.


You can learn more about Deborah Shaffer at


And follow Kiran Chitanvis @kiranchitanvis


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The Films of Sally Potter: Performance and Directing Style 


Sally Potter picked up her first 8 mm camera at age fourteen. The breadth of her work spans from feminist avant-garde shorts, to a coming of age story set in the 60's protest era, to political satires, to a gender bending adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s "Orlando," and most recently a powerful short with Javier Bardem and Chris Rock battling it out as manager and artist on a Brooklyn rooftop. 



GCC: Your first film was Thriller, a short film. It was a twist on the traditional thriller as we know it. How did that idea come about? 


SP: I actually made quite a lot of the short films before that, but Thriller was the first one that became more accessible to more people and more relevant to more people at the time when it came out. And I think the idea behind it was to first of all, look at why it seemed in so many stories in opera, but in other stories too the female heroine got to die in the last act. So it was wanting to kind of dismantle the heroine, the glamorization of female suffering, really, by having the woman become the interrogator of the reasons behind her own death. In fact, the reasons for all the ways that story, the story of La bohème the opera in this case and many similar stories are told. But it was also very much a visual exploration of the relationship between stills and the moving image in a kind of post-modern cut up in a way, because it used Bernard Thomas music from Psycho, the shower sequence

[stabbing gesture] “eh eh eh eh” combined with opera. So it was about popular culture and so-called high culture kind of having a dialogue with each other. But putting the woman, in this instance a black woman, right at the center of it being the one who's interrogating the whole culture that surrounds her.


GCC: And there's a part where she's reading from a text that was from Mallarmé. How is that kind of device used in the film? Why did you decide to incorporate that text? 


SP: I wanted to take one of the key texts that were at the time floating around a lot in feminist academic circles, which I wasn't really a part of because I was more of a practitioner, a filmmaker, or a dancer, or a performance artist. But I was very intrigued by the atmosphere at the time of incredible amounts of interest in theory in the text. So I wanted to explore how did these ideas by great Western writers, what sort of hold did they have over people and how were they using and working with those texts? So it was a play on that. 


GCC: Your early films were so fascinating. They were avant garde and experimental. In both Thriller and The Gold Diggers you are capturing the inner world of the characters, the female interiority and voice. You do that partly through voiceover in The Gold Diggers. And there's some use of symbolism, too. And it's not a traditional narrative. And it is so layered and visually complex with the production design and the language. It's not a traditional narrative, but if I were to ask you, in more traditional narrative terms, what was Julie Christie's, the protagonist’s conflict? What was she trying to transform? 


SP: So I think about the question of the interior female voice. I was very conscious then, as I am now, of the history of female silence and in a way, the absent voices in the culture and certainly in the kind of films that I grew up watching and stories that I grew up watching. And I often felt that the the forms that developed in the avant garde that were less narrative, less character driven and so on in certain ways, had more space to explore that silence and rectify it by giving voice to the things that had not been said, had not been expressed that nobody had found a way of expressing. So I began to explore what they were and wrote them down often as questions and in Thriller it’s a lot of questions that she asks. And in The Gold Diggers, I guess, the discussions that I had with my two collaborators on the script, Lindsey Cooper and Rose English were a lot about form because Lindsay was a composer and therefore very interested in the forms of music, not just in music itself, but in the forms of music and how it works. And Rose English had come from the visual arts world. She was absolutely a visual artist and worked on the design for the film. But the combination, therefore, of the places we had come from meant that we were interrogating the nature of form, the nature of storytelling, a narrative, and what it left out. So the form we chose in The Gold Diggers was more circular, more looking at itself and moving back and forth in time to really examine what it was doing rather than linear. And that was a very, very conscious thing to do formally. But I think you could say that both of those stories around the globe were sort of imbued with the language of performance art as much as the language of cinema. Although I was very much in love with cinema and still am. 


And but to decode it, it seemed necessary to draw on all the ways of structuring a story and other ways of structuring a presence on film. And Julie Christie, one of the reasons for asking her to be in the film was that she, in a way, well she was a great film star, a great grand film star who was bringing with her that sort of presence, if you like, from classical mainstream cinema and placing her, literally lifting her out of the ballroom on a horseback and putting her in this film and seeing what that did and then having her role be in a way, as a star within that system economically, ecologically, psychically, emotionally, to get that to be interrogated to. 


So that's how we were thinking about character; it was rather different. It wasn't like a classical view. This is a character with a backstory. It was more, I am an image. I am an image that you are receiving and I am going to start to unravel for you. 


GCC: And so coming from performance art, what do you think the camera brings? 


SP: Point of view. It adds point of view, it adds framing it as a relationship, a very particular relationship with time, with leaving a trace in time, and it brings with it the whole history of photography and cinematography. So it's only life in the sense that you are recording a live moment, but you are recording something that will then go on to have its own life. So it's a very big jump. But I think what in performance art, what was developed in the dance world that I was part of as well, was a very, very strong feeling for presence and for the present moment. And so that became very much a theme actually, how to achieve that feeling of absolutely being in that moment rather than anything that was more forced. It was almost a feeling of improvisation, but very structured. It wasn't actually improvised, but there was this conscious relationship with how to get something to feel very alive and so present at the moment that the camera was turning. 


GCC: Your background was in choreography and dance. How does that lend itself to filmmaking and directing? 


GCC: Very well because first of all, nobody works as hard as dancers. It's the hardest artform and the poorest art form and the most demanding of the body. And it's a short life for most dancers. But choreography has developed a very acute relationship with space, with bodies in space, and also with the body itself, you know, how it moves, what it's telling you. So I think that when I work with actresses, it's kind of a 360 degree full body act, full body performance. You know, it's not just about the face speaking. And so it's a very good training for that, for that kind of awareness. And it's a very good training for working with people because I was able in that world to work on many, many pieces with a lot of people, turn over a great deal of work, get a lot of experience of how to work with people. Whereas I think for a lot of young filmmakers, film is so difficult and expensive and difficult to organize that people often don't have many flying hours in the actual process of working and making something happen and working with people and building relationships. So that was helpful, more than helpful. And it's Andrè Bazin, the French film theorist, who said the essence of cinema is movement. So if one already has a feeling for movement through time, movement in space, it's a very good discipline to have when thinking about how to set up a shot or scene, how to work with the camera, whether it's still or moving. If it is moving, in what way? What height is, how are we seeing it? And with the actors, all the performers where in space are they? Close or far or are they moving or still all these questions, you develop a vocabulary with that in live work whether that's dance or performance work with theater.


SP: Can you talk a little bit about your collaboration with the DP Babette Malgotte. She’s worked with so many great female directors. 


GCC: It's a long time since that collaboration, but it was a very fruitful one and it was the desire to work in black and white to shoot on 35 mm film. So it was very analog. And she had, of course, a sensibility that came also much more from the avant-garde and much less from the mainstream filmmaking. So I think that point of view was very helpful. And she was at the time, I would probably think one of the more experienced female DP's and leading, you know, an all female crew that we had on that film. 


GCC:  That’s so great that you had an all female crew on that. On The Gold Diggers you and Babette Malgotte were very free with the camera and blocking. Did she storyboard or did you storyboard together? 


SP: No, no, no storyboards. Definitely not. And it's not about not blocking. Of course, I would set up and give the parameters of a situation, but all I'm questioning is there's a lot of orthodoxies about how you're supposed to behave on a set or how you're supposed to set up a scene which are often quite tight and rigid and stop people from seeing all the ways of doing it. Other possibilities. But the way that I work with DP’s and certainly did with Babette is very much shoulder to shoulder, looking together shot by shot, figuring out the best way to do it. I would always plan. I would always, even then I think, always have a shot list at the beginning of the day, what I wanted to get through, what I wanted to see and approximately how that might be organized through the day and in what time and in what order. And so it wasn't all spontaneous. It was planned in that sense very much. But I think that's the kind of thing at the end she and I were talking about often were more like composition within the frame or lenses, which lenses how wide, how close, what are we trying to see here? 


GCC: The film is so beautifully shot. I love that wide shot you have of all the people walking up the glacier. Okay, I'd like to move on to Orlando, which is a loved film of yours, and it was recently made into gorgeous 4K restoration. Orlando is a novel from Virginia Woolf. What made you want to adapt that particular book? 


SP: Well, I think it's a combination of those things which were…how can I say? Seems that it could take one a very long way; the theme of immortality. Therefore, an exploration of the human lifespan. And the aspiration of the impossible was physically humanly impossible at this point, which takes it into a kind of metaphysical feeling about. Human existence through time. So it's such a big subject. I mean, that's like physics and biology and religion and everything, just that alone. But of course, what it is more known for, more famous for narratively is the change of sex all the way through. So to be able to so-to-speak see the world from the perspective of male experience and then female experience in the body of a person who is exactly the same, the same individual was itself very radical. Critique by Virginia Woolf of the nature of identity, fluidity of identity, but also what she thought of as the androgynous mind. The mind has no gender and the heart has no gender. Love has no gender. Skin has no gender. Blood has no gender. So she was taking a very, very specific line on what makes us the way that we are. And it was a great deal to do with the performance agenda that we're forced into by stereotypes and by oppression, really, within society. So I thought the combination of those subjects was so incredibly interesting, and the way that she'd done that in the book was through images. It's just full of images.

GCC: How do you even begin to approach adapting a novel like that? 


SP: Reading it over and over again. And then analyzing it, breaking it down into its narrative threads and breaking it down into acts and scenes just like aspects of the story. I cut a lot of characters, a lot of scenes, a lot of events. And going back to the core again and again and again, sort of charting it, analyzing it. I did so many drafts. I think the first draft of the script was like 200 pages long. And at the end of the minute-a-page I ended up at about 99 pages. I cut way more than half of what I wrote. And then I also read most of everything else that Virginia Woolf had written, including her diaries, the things she wrote, what she was thinking about while she was writing Orlando and so on. So I tried to get really, really close to the spirit of what she was writing, but gradually departed further and further and further from the book in order to make it work cinematically. Because it was too complex, too literary to be cinematic if one took it literally off the page. So I needed to make a lot of ruthless changes. But I did try and stay very, very close to the tone of the book, the speed and the wit and the lightness of it. 


GCC: That's one of the things that is so wonderful about the film is its tone. And Tilda Swinton’s performance, her delivery has this kind of subtle humor. But in terms of performance how did you achieve that tone with her? 


SP: Rehearsals. Endless rehearsal. Endless preparation. Not formal rehearsal like her standing there performing or anything, but going over and over in practice and different ways of looking at me as if I was the camera finding, you know, what we both laughed at? We just spent a great deal of time together working on it again and again and again through each successive draft. And so by the time we came to shoot it, we understood each other. Absolutely. And it was a great deal of mutual trust. And the ground had been prepared. For what proved to be a very exhausting and difficult shoot. But done with great, good humor. 


GCC: It felt like you guys were having a lot of fun. 


SP: We did. We were laughing all the time. 


GCC: Another playful and witty part of the film is the costume design and the hair. Sandy Powell did the costumes, which were so beautiful. I really loved all the exaggerated proportions in the costumes and hair and even with some of the makeup. That must have been a fun discussion. What was that like, what made you decide to go in that direction? 


SP: Endless discussions, A, B, lots and lots of historical research. Looking at paintings. They're not even that exaggerated. They're pretty true to the paintings of the time of the period and the wigs. Some of them were a little exaggerated, but not a lot. I think what tends to happen is that people, when they work with this period stuff, they tone it down. Whereas I went to the most extreme end of silhouettes and wigs and so on, but also I was working with people who were brilliant at what they did. You know, the wig makers were extraordinary. And the wigs were, a great deal of attention, lot’s of tests. We tested everything, all the colors. I provided a very clear palette to Sandy and to all the designers. Each era had a completely different color palette and excluded all the other colors and so on. So I think there were clear guidelines and there was a lot of historical research. And then these individuals were incredibly creative with what they had and we pushed it to an extreme. What did I used to call it? Magic realism in effect. 


GC: Ginger and Rosa is a coming of age film that takes place in England during the 60’s protest era. I'm very curious about your collaboration with Elle Fanning. Elle Fanning is always so luminous on screen and bright. But there is also in that particular film she had an almost translucent quality and you let her cry on screen. It feels very raw, but it also feels like there's a little bit held back. Could you talk about how you brought her there? 


SP: Well, firstly, when Elle auditioned for this, she was 12. When we were shooting, she was 13, playing 16. So extraordinary that she could manage it. But it was clear to me, even when she was 12, that she was going to be able to do it. When I would meet her in L.A. and filmed a little bit with her and because she was already very experienced, she'd already made appearances in about 20 films or something by the age of 13. So she had an amazing facility and an amazing feeling of being at ease, very, very comfortable with the camera, with the set. But the key for me, because she was so young, I wanted to build a very, very safe space for her and build a very close personal relationship with her so that she could go to those places. And she also had the capacity of all really good actors, which she could go into something then she could just come back out of it. She had enough detachment. She knew she was performing. You know, she didn't start drowning in trauma or something. So yeah, we discussed the scene. We knew where it was coming from and what was happening, and she would do it and then she'd come back out and we'd hug and we'd laugh and she'd say “why potatoes?” That was refreshing. She was wonderful to work with and eager to learn and eager to understand the material that she was working with. But we became very close. 


GCC: That's what I found so truthful about that scene and those moments that she isn't drowning in the trauma. It felt like the loss of innocence was captured. And there's a lot that she's seeing and experiencing for the first time. She's feeling so much, but I don't think she totally understands what's going on. 


GCC: What would be your advice to a young director in order to gain confidence in working with actors? Because with cinematography and editing, for example, you could probably learn a lot from books or courses, but I think that it's very intimidating for a young director to work with actors for the first time. How would they prepare the day before? 


SP: Well, first of all, the day before it's too late. You have to get every bit of preparation you can with time with actors before you're on the set. And amazingly, a lot of actors don't do that. And that's a big, big mistake, because it means you discover the problems on the set when you've got no time. You need to have dealt with those things beforehand and in private. So it's always the best thing to try and find some private time with each actor and then do a lot of listening, ask them questions. Alot of young directors often feel they've got to hang around looking very authoritative and know what they're doing and being decisive and kind of tell the actors what to do. That's not what it's about at all. It's about creating an environment in which an actor feels listened to and find out their point of view. Listen to their suggestions. Or you may not agree with them, but it doesn't matter you’re creating the space in which they will feel respected and a creative partnership is beginning. That's very important. And then it's really just about observing what works. What's the quality you want to get as a director? What is it? Is it talking with the actor or is it standing back and just giving them space to try out different things? Or is it being very warm you know, huggies sort of warm, kind of nice cozy environment. Or for some people that's “no don't come near me.” So it's just observing the individual actor and what makes them tick and what gets the best out of them and then trying to build on that. So it's about observation, which includes listening, and then it's moment to moment feedback. So for example, during the set when we're shooting, I don't know how other directors work, but I don't usually give a direction out loud across the set. I go over and talk quietly to an actor in between takes. Try this, try to do this, and then it's like a nice little private kind of cocoon in a way of trust and I think that's important. It's so much about trust.


GCC: So ideally you would want to build in a lot of time with them. 


SP: Yes. Well, the more and more the actors don't want their time wasted. You don't want to be with an actor just doing that same thing for hours and hours and not really helping anything to develop. So it's got to feel like it's an efficient use of time and find out from them what their concerns are and if they're already working on it. They've already read the script, they already know what they think, maybe what they want to do, but maybe they're worried about what they're going to wear. So if that's what they're worried about, you have to ask the question directly, what are your concerns? What will help you to do your best work here? Do you think they might say, well, I'm really concerned about my hair or I don't like this line, I don't understand it or whatever it may be and then deal with it. 


GCC: Your last film was a short with Javier Bardem and Chris Rock, called Look at Me. And you've made many, many incredible shorts and we a lot of times we don't get to see those. Now it's easier to access more shorts, of course. But could you talk a little bit about the value of making shorts and just the short form, because a lot of young filmmakers don’t ever even get to make a feature, or they don't have the resources to make a feature. 


SP: And yes they do, if they have an iPhone, they do. [holds up her iPhone] So if one has the will and now there is the technology— I can go out with this tomorrow and make a feature, but I need the idea. So where do you need to put your time? Writing. You need to figure out what you want to make a film about. But the technology is so much easier now. So much cheaper. Several very good films have been made that way. So with shorts, there's a certain amount of misunderstanding about shorts, which is somehow the idea that they're just a form of practice for a feature. You know I don't think that's true. And going back to making a short after so many years of making features, nine features in between the previous short and the recent short, I remembered and rediscovered, what a demanding format it is. And it's not just a short version of the feature. It's certainly a practice. It's a form in its own right, very demanding, needs a great deal of precision and confidence and a great deal of attention to the writing and to the concept. So it's a really interesting format. And I think now that people are absorbing short forms on Instagram and TikTok and so on, there's probably going to be a need for more skill and dexterity with short forms and to really understand how they work for people as well as features and TV series. There's so many ways now of absorbing images and stories. 


GCC: Do you have any final words of wisdom for young filmmakers just starting out? Maybe they're about to make their first short, let's say. 


SP: I would say to do as much work as possible and to understand, really how important the script is. You know, it's the architecture of everything. And I don't mean the dialogue that is the least of it, it can be a script with completely no dialogue. It's how you organize the concept, what it really is, the underlying clarity that you need that becomes the engine that then propels the whole thing and propels it for everybody working on it. So to anyone working, I would say if maybe they don't want to write their own work, in which case they work with a writer, but the attention on the writing is key. And then the second is do as much as possible, make as much as possible, make a little with an iPhone or get together and shoot something. It's about developing the muscle. You know, just doing it, doing it, doing it as much as possible in any way possible. And know that everybody, even the most experienced filmmakers, suffer from doubt, insecurity, fear about how their work will be received or perceived. These feelings are hard and are very difficult. The beginning of a working life is to understand that this is normal and that this actually also doesn't go away. It's not very reassuring for people to hear that, but I think it normalizes it. Part of the working process is to struggle with the material and with yourself to feel that what you're doing is of some value and that it will eventually get there because at the beginning, often it's not working brilliantly. And it needs a lot of work to get through all the different stages until it finally arrives. But at that point, you have to kind of give yourself a pat on the back and say keep going against all the voices of doubt that will be crowded in your head. So it's a kind of word of encouragement, really, about that. Don't let the feelings of doubt paralyze you, but welcome them as a way of refining the work that you want to do and refining in a way, your own motivation about the work. What you want to put out into the world because there's so much garbage out there. So how to find a way through that to your truest intentions. 


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You can follow Sally Potter @sallypotter 


THE WITCH: Craft and film language of Robert Eggers


THE WITCH is a beautiful-mysterious horror film about a family, a “puritan’s nightmare” set in New England. It stars Anya Taylor Joy in her debut role as the daughter, Thomasin. 

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We caught up director, Robert Eggers while he was in Prague in pre-production for his next feature, Nosferatu. We discuss the challenges of a first time feature, his creative process, and the richness of THE WITCH. 


G.C.C.: Did you initially set out to make a genre film? 

R.E.: Yeah, after I had made this short film, The Tell-Tale Heart, which is my first short film, that’s not like a complete embarrassment. There were some small indie production companies that were interested in the idea of potentially developing a feature with me. And I wrote several screenplays that were some kind of strange, dark fairy tales, but also genre-less and very arthouse. Then I realized that if I wanted to get a film financed, I had to make something that was clearly in a genre. So, I kind of challenged myself - how do I make a genre film where I'm still maintaining who I am? I said probably this movie's going to be so tiny that I'm going to have to shoot in my parents backyard, you know, the proverbial my parents backyard. And so I figured, okay, I’m in New England. Which are the archetypal New England spooks? And there hasn't really been a New England horror story with witches, really, this is a great opportunity. And it's also something that I've been interested in since I was a kid. So, yes, I very much set out to make a genre film, which was something that at the time with being a super cinema snob, felt a little bit like a dirty word. But now, of course, it's weird because, seven, eight years after The Witch has come out, genre is like a word that I’m wedded to at this point.

GCC: It's funny because I didn't even remember it as a full on horror film. When I was thinking about it, I kept thinking about Thomasin and her character arc. It was interesting re-watching it again and seeing, oh yeah, it’s clearly a horror film. But there was all the family drama and it’s so theatrical.

RE: But I think the family drama is what hopefully makes it more horrific and not just surfacely horror, one hopes, you know, one tries. 

GCC: Yeah, definitely. It’s scary with these tragedies and not knowing who to blame when they are all alone on that plantation. And every family member has their inner demons and conflicts both within themselves and with one another. Especially in the scene with Caleb and that whole build up. It's like, who is on trial here?


RE:  Yeah. 

GCC: The language and the dialogue is very specific, which I personally enjoy because I love English literature and all that (old English), but did you have any concern that that specific of a dialect might be hard for people to understand? Or would be any issue? Especially the father’s accent.


RE: I knew it was an issue, but it was also something that was important to me and I didn't really care. It took five years to get well, four years to find financing. And we could have found financing much quicker had I calmed down on the language. There was some people who were interested in doing a cheaper version with simplified language in it and that was just something that I didn't want to do. I also remember that the guy who was looking to sell the movie at Sundance watched it and was worried that we were going to have to have subtitles and I think some, particularly a lot of American audiences, do have a hard time understanding it. But I think that hopefully the sound of it, there's this Puritan language which, you know forget about Shakespeare. I think people know early modern English by the bible. So the sound of what they're saying sounds very biblical and heavy and then they can get the gist, and it also makes it so the audience is a little behind and you really have to lean in to get everything, which I think hopefully puts you on edge a little more. Audiences in the U.K. generally don't have such a hard time with it, even though that's not how people speak today. But like you said, with Ralph, his accent is thick for an American ear.


GCC: Well, I'm so glad that you didn't change it, because that is one of the wonderful things about the film - the dialogue and the specificity of the Puritan dialect. Speaking of the dialogue and the writing - what's your writing process like? Alot of our readers are aspiring filmmakers so it'd be interesting to hear your process; like Joan Didion would have an ice cold Coca-Cola first thing in the morning when she started writing and Bergman wrote 3 hours a day in the morning and then he would have lunch (on Bergman Island) and then watch a film after. Do you have any writing routines or rituals that keep you grounded? 


RE: Yeah, The Witch was a very different thing, but I try to write in the morning as early as I can muster with plenty of coffee. Ideally I would write in the morning and stop after lunch. But I think a lot of times I'm in a situation now with co-writers where we've been preparing what we're going to do and then we have to bang a bunch of stuff out that we've been planning on doing. And so we get a week where you're writing for 10 hours a day, which is pretty intense. But certainly with The Witch it would be generally, if I was working in a period where I didn't have art department work or set carpentry work or whatever, it would be waking up early in the morning, writing until lunch and then going into research mode in the afternoons. 


GCC: So when does the research stop because, I don't know for you or even for people like me who love this type of thing. Are you researching during production and throughout production, too, or does that kind of stop once the script is locked? 


RE: With The Witch it kind of stopped just because I had been working on it for so long. And frankly, the world is very contained. So I knew every object that this family had in their house, based on wills and inventories and blah, blah, blah. So The Witch was really contained. The Northman we didn't stop ever, even in post-production, I was double checking with the rune specialists that like the intertitles that are “runes” were correct. And so with that we never stopped. 


GCC: Interesting, so you probably had a whole team for that on The Northman? 


RE:  Yeah. I was working with (the best), I'm so humbled and privileged and lucky. It was just awesome. But I had my pick of the finest Viking historians and archeologists working on the film, which was just so inspiring. And it made it work.


GCC: That’s so awesome. So with the co-writing process you were saying, now you're starting to co-write. What has that been like for you? Because you're used to just diving in on your own?


RE: Yeah I wrote The Lighthouse with my brother and I think that was maybe a good first person to work with because we know each other so well. And then lately, as you know, after The Northman I've been continuing to collaborate with Sjón on scripts that hopefully will one day get to see the light of day. It's so fun because you're constantly feeding off of the other person's creativity. And it's not competitive. It's just you keep topping up the scene and it’s a really, really enjoyable process. I just finished a podcast with Sjón right before I got on this. And he was saying how a film is a collaborative process and so it's great to start the screenplay as a collaborative process. And I think he's right. So I started doing it just as a means of survival. Like when, when we were working together I could only do kind of one thing at a time as far as trying to my own stuff, and trying to tell my own story. And now, just to survive in the industry, I have to have so many things going on because I think one movie's going to happen and it doesn't happen. And so I have to have something else that I could do instead.


GCC: Yeah. Thank you. I appreciate you sharing that. That's great insight and advice for creatives, not just filmmakers. You never know from one week to the next which project is going to get green lit. 


RE: Totally.


GCC: Sjón - who is that?


RE: Sjón is an Icelandic poet and novelist. He's the man.


GCC: Cool.


GCC: Film can be a referential art in a way. What do you look at for inspiration or do you ever try to shield yourself at some point of the process? I guess it still ties into the research aspect. 

RE: Yeah I think in The Witch I had some kind of idea about  certain times when I didn't want to watch films. But I'm not like that at all. I'm just constantly watching as many films as I can, and I'm usually hunting for something specific. I don't watch as many new films as I'd like to. I used to be a lot better at it. But I'm so fortunate to be working a lot, so. I usually have a kind of syllabus that I'm following and then during COVID, it made everything very difficult. When I was living in New York, even if I was doing a lot of stuff I could just go to Film Forum, go to IFC center, go to Regal or whatever and just see something and I can't do that now. It's quite frustrating. And then I was living in New Hampshire earlier this year…


GCC: …not as many theaters.


RE: But yeah I'm always watching stuff and watching things for different reasons. During production I'm not watching movies for inspiration at that point. At that point I know what I'm doing, we've planned it. If there is a serious problem and somehow watching a little sequence from something might help, and that’s something we might do that on the weekend, but that's pretty rare. But on the Northman, I watched every Terminator movie, even all the really, really bad ones. I watched like RoboCop and I watched all of Seinfeld, it was just stuff to kind of chill out a little bit.


GCC: So the production design - you started off as a production designer and every film you've made is essentially a period piece. Could you talk a little bit about your collaboration with your production designer? And also the costumes were so beautiful in The Witch and the color palette and everything. Were you looking at any paintings for The Witch? Well, now I'm getting into the cinematography, but every detail seemed so authentic. How true was it to the period? 


RE: It was as true as we could endeavor to be. I think even with The Northman, there is a point at which the budget can’t do exactly everything that you ever want. And so you have to make some compromises. There’s all this talk that I built the boats out of this light, exact wood. And that's just not true. But basically with the witch, there were certain things that we couldn't use like hand-woven cloth for the costumes because we could not afford it.


We did use hand-woven cloth on many of the costumes in The Northman. Not all of them, but like anything that gets close to camera because we could afford to do it. So on The Witch, we were trying to find things that looked like they could be hand woven. Linda got samples from this guy, Stuart Peachey, who runs a 17th Century Farm on the CORNISH border. And we looked at his samples to try to find something close to that. Stuart also is an expert on the clothes of the common people in like the Elizabethan and Stewart era. And he's written a zillion tiny books, that stacks up to many phone blogs when you put it all together and that was our kind of Bible. And with The witch I did my own drawings of everything as well as supplying look books and research. But Craig and Linda always take it much, much further. Linda suggested different kind of trousers for some character that I never would have thought of. And it was a great idea and as much as I know what I want, and I'm very specific, the best thing is when your collaborator pushes you further than you can go without them. That's what's fun about collaboration.  


GCC: Totally. I won't spend too much time on this, but there is this beautiful pale pink corset thing that Thomasin wears about a third into the film. What was that from? Is that a specific garment for anything? Or is that an invention from the costume designer?


RE: No, no, no. There's there's no inventions allowed. This is our best understanding from our own research and Stuart's research on what would be called a “body” rather than a corset, because Stuart discovered that there is actually a law that people of the social status of this family wouldn't be allowed to wear boning. So it isn't like an actual corset, but like a functional garment that just keeps your skirt up and whatever else.


GCC: Okay. So it functions more like a belt. 

RE: It’s like a belt and a bra. A single belt and bra.    


GCC: Thick belt bra combo. [laughing]


GCC: So the casting was amazing in The Witch all across the board. Do you work with a casting director? Everyone had such interesting faces, all so different, but you believed they were a family. 


RE: Ralph was someone that I wanted. And then he came aboard, which was great. And then I worked with Kharmel Cochrane, who's a great British casting director, who I've worked with on all my movies. And she was aware of Anya Taylor Joy. It was the first tape that I saw and we still looked at like hundreds of young women. It was a lot of work to find the kids. Kharmel and I took a trip to the north of England to find kids and, Kate Dickie was, we had actually someone else was cast in that role and she bailed and it was actually our Canadian service producer, Daniel Beckerman, who suggested Kate and I was not, ashamed to say, aware of her work. And I saw Red Road and totally blown away. And she graciously read and was, you know, fantastic. And I hope to work with Kate many more times. 


GCC: She was incredible, so intense. 


GCC: What is The Witch about to you? What is the greatest sin in The witch? Because it's part folktale and it's part biblical. Each character is battling with something inside, there's the pride of the father and the lack of faith in the mother…do you have any thoughts around that?


RE: I don't have a message in mind when I'm making a film. I'm trying to, I was just trying to make the best movie about witches that I could almost a thesis of witches. And something that I had said a lot back in the day was I was trying to make a Puritans nightmare, upload a Puritans nightmare into a contemporary audiences brain and so it's about digging into their belief system and the way I see it if you believe something, even something, then it does exist. So if you believe in a witch, witches exists and obviously, witches arrive, so to speak, in times of despair, your child dies and there's no answer. It must be a witch. And then she feeds off your own internal demons, as you put it, and just, festers. So Yeah I think with a story everyone contributes to it. I suppose if William hadn't been so prideful to leave the plantation, maybe nothing would have happened [laughs], but obviously, it's story of a downfall of a family. 

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GCC: They say directors often make the same film over and over again. Do you know what that is for you? Are there certain themes that you're always exploring or revisiting or you don't really think about that? 


RE: I know that I'm into fairy tales and folktales and mythology and religion and the occult. I know that there is a symbol that there is clearly a primal narrative that I'm repeating. Certainly in the first two films, a little bit less so in The Northman because it is based on and was is the Nordic, origins of Hamlet. In my films I have made and in the film I'm currently making, you see a lot of the same stuff and even in the three films that have come out everyone's naked and crazy at the end, and then two of them naked and dead at the end and they all end with fire after crossing a threshold. Of course, I'm not like “tick” this is where this part happens, I'm just writing something I think is unique, I think is original. I think I haven't done it before. And then I realize that I have.


GCC: It's funny I did start to see some parallels in The Witch and the Northman. Are you religious or spiritual at all?


RE: No comment. [laughs]


GCC: So what are you working on next? What's next for you?

RE: Hopefully I'm finally making Nosferatu that I've been trying to do for seven years and has fallen apart twice. So that's what I'm here for. So, fingers crossed, knock on wood and all that good stuff.


GCC: Yes fingers crossed. 


GCC: Will you be working with Anya TAYLOR-JOY again?


RE: No, she's not on this one. But it's the same H.O.D.’s (heads of department) that I always work with, which is great. And it's very nice.


GCC: Oh, I had one question about Caleb. Who is Caleb channeling? Was he channeling a woman? 

RE: Yes, he is. He's saying a bunch of stuff that children allegedly said when they were possessed that was from a recording that I I found. And so he's picturing being tormented by. [pauses] Hey, what's up, dude? [interrupted by his son] “Hi daddy” [says his son off screen] [continues] So he is picturing being tormented by big black dogs and maybe ravens. I don't know. And pictures of the witch crawling on him and all this kind of stuff. But, yeah it's all stuff that kids allegedly said when they were possessed by witches. 


GCC: Thought it might have been a specific text from something that it sounded like he was reciting.

RE: At the very end is a sort of perversion of song of songs. Which was that in itself was like a version of something that I found in John Winthrop's, who was the first governor of Massachusetts. His religion, his diaries, a sort of weird like song. From his diaries.


GCC: Interesting. Well, I think we’ve covered a lot. We love The Witch, it’s a film that really stays with you. Your films are all so beautiful. I really want to ask you about The Lighthouse and have so many other questions, but I better stop here. Thank you so much, Robert. 


RE: My pleasure. Good luck with it and I can’t wait to see it when it’s done. 


GCC: Good luck over there with your prep.


RE: Okay, right on. 



Dress from “In memory of Elizabeth Howe, Salem, 1692” collection by Lee Alexander McQueen (1969–2010). Velvet and satin, 2007/2008.
The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming, New-York Historical Society

"The Salem Witch Trials: A New Narrative” By: Bell Pendon


Living in New York City grants many opportunities to learn about American history. A certain way of discovering our history is a visit to the many museums around the city. One of the New-York Historical Society’s current exhibitions is The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming, open to the public until January 2023. This exhibition invites everyone to think about our roles in moments of injustice. Located in Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery and organized by the Peabody Essex Museum, this highlights the Salem Witch Trials’ history and influence on society by inspiring haute couture and the modern occult. The exhibition has three moving parts: prized possessions from the Salem Witch Trials, clothing from Alexander McQueen’s 2007 collection In Memory of Elizabeth Howe, 1692, and portraits from Major Arcana: Portraits of Witches in America. 


This experience is truly like no other. Right before the entrance, music sets the tone and  emphasizes the women pleading for their innocence in the background. Thus transporting the audience – it’s no longer present-day New York City but Salem, Massachusetts, in the 1690s. Walking through the materials gathered from the witch trials stresses the brutality of humanity, especially towards women. Innocent women and their families were subject to scrutiny, and many often risked their lives in defending their friends and loved ones from the accusations of witchcraft. From written letters proving the innocence of the accused women to the diary entries of the women's lives, these possessions assisted in understanding the sentiments felt during that time. It was intriguing to learn how these trials inspired modern collections, like Alexander McQueen’s in 2007. McQueen’s inspiration came from the wrongful accusation of his ancestor Elizabeth Howe, whose reputation he sought to reshape in a more positive light by reclaiming her name through his glorious interpretation of witches in haute couture. In McQueen’s collection, one of his gowns was staged in the middle of the room making it the central piece that immediately grabs the audience’s attention. The grandness of the gown was especially notable as it stood out from the rest of his collection, with its sleek black glimmering design. McQueen’s collection then transitions to portraits from the Major Arcana collection. This last section includes photographs by Frances F. Denny of modern witches around America and their variations of the occult. These portraits redirect the reputation of “witches” by uplifting their voices rather than silencing them. From nurses to tarot readers, these portraits showcase that witches are everywhere, fully empowering women and their magical spaces. 


     After experiencing the story and influence of the Salem Witch trials, the exhibition closes with an interactive portion which entails a notebook to write down one’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs followed by a make-your-own-tarot card. Public exhibitions like The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming raise distinct narratives that we might otherwise overlook. Revisiting these crucial moments in our past allows us to understand our roles in shaping our history, whether active or passive. From the very beginning, this exhibition asks us to ruminate on our roles in moments of injustice, yet this experience also provides hope by articulating that we can change our narratives in history through our active engagement and modern creations. 

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        "Make your own Tarot Card" section of the exhibit 
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Guest notebook 

Bell Pendon is an avid writer, art enthusiast, and nature lover. She is a media studies student at Fordham University. 




"I really like to pick stories of people survive

no matter where they live... People create life...fall in

Somehow life pushes us to continue and search for hope and survival even when there is no hope..."


-Blerta Basholli, writer and director of “Hive”

[From an interview with Stephanie Gardner on June 14, 2021 in Prishtinë, Kosova]

Sometimes a film has the ability to transport us to another time and space.  Blerta Basholli’s 2021 triple-award-winning Sundance film, “Hive,” brings us to a small village in Kosova in 2006.  


Kosova is a small, landlocked nation in Southeast Europe, formerly an autonomous region in ex-Yugoslavia.  It is one of the newest independent states in the world, gaining its independence in 2008.  From February 1998 through June 1999, Kosova was embroiled in a horrific war, fought between ethnic-Albanians seeking the freedom to live openly as Albanians on their Kosovan homeland, and ethnic-Serbs with the Yugoslav army, seeking to control the territory of Kosova and remain in the Serb-dominant Yugoslavia, which was in the process of breaking apart.


The Albanian-Kosova made film “Hive” opens seven years after the war ends.  “Hive” is based on the true story of real-life Fahrije Hoti, expertly played by Kosova-born-Albanian actress Yllka Gashi.  Fahrije is an entrepreneurial-minded woman who starts selling homemade ajvar (a red-pepper condiment popular in the region) to support her family and help her community thrive in post-war Kosova.


“Hive,” takes us directly into Fahrije’s world in Krushë e Madhe, an old-stone, Albanian village in Kosova, which experienced one of the worst massacres of the war, leaving nearly all the town’s women widows.  Seven years on, many of the men are still missing.  Bodies have not been returned.  And of those that have, many have not yet been identified. 


Unlike many films from this former Yugoslavia region, Basholli is not directly making a war film.  Only through brief radio and TV spots in the background do we hear bits and pieces about the war that this town is still recovering from.


Many international audiences may come in with little-to-no knowledge of this tragedy.  This should not matter, as the film is not meant to be a diatribe of the war, rather, an intimate portrait of a family and village dealing with the day-to-day realities of the aftermath.  


While you do not need to know a full history of the war, a basic knowledge of the genocides that happened throughout the region which left many Muslim families without husbands, sons or fathers, can greatly elevate your emotional connection to the story.


“Hive” is set in a village that experienced one of the war’s many ethnic-cleansing massacres.  The Krushë e Madhe massacre occured on March 25, 1999, the day after NATO bombed Yugoslavia in attempts to end the Serbian attacks on Kosova. Yugoslav forces entered the village, separated men from women, then killed 241 ethnic Albanian civilians, mostly men and adolescent boys, while countless women were abused and raped.  Today, there are still missing bodies and tensions remain high between Kosova and Serbia, a country that still does not recognize Kosova’s independence.


To me, “Hive” is a story of human grief.  


No matter where a viewer is from, it is safe to say that most can identify with love, loss, and grief.  


At the start of the film, we have been dropped into the middle of Fahrije’s life, who fearlessly jumps into the back of a truck filled with unidentified bodies and desperately searches for her husband.  Like most of the men in the village that were killed in an act of ethnic cleansing, Fahrije’s husband never came back, nor has been found these seven years later.


Fahrije is on a quest to know what happened to her husband, to find and identify his body so that the family can move past their unlikely hope that he might walk in the door one day, somehow escaping the massacres.  Not having a body to identify leaves the grief dangling in the air with no room for inner peace.  Without this resolution, it is very difficult to move on.  Fahrije knows she might never get catharsis yet she will try, as she also knows she needs to carry on, one way or another.


We know that these women and the community at large are grieving, and that they need to survive somehow to take their lives into the future; to give their children a chance to have a future.


Our shared human experiences can connect us across cultures.  This is the power of cinema.  Through this quest to emotionally process the blows life deals us, is how I personally connect with “Hive” and other films such as Aida Begić's “Snow” (2008), which tells a similar story of war-widows from Bosnia; or Lucrecia Martel’s “La Ciénaga” (2001), from Argentina, which makes you feel like a fly-on-the-wall of a dysfunctional family.  These films concentrate on an emotional journey rather than spoon-feed you plot points.


We get to know the characters of “Hive” through their various relationships with grief.  Fahrije deals with her grief internally and through the actions she takes to put her life back on track, such as earning money to buy school books for her kids.  Her teenage daughter grieves by believing that her father will return, rebelling against her mother as teenagers are prone to do, and holding on to the few keepsakes that remain from her father’s life.  


Having been turned away from all other options, Fahrije manages to sell an old table-saw belonging to her husband in order to have seed funds to start her ajvar business.  Fahrije’s daughter sees this as her mother trying to erase his memory.  Simultaneously, Fahrije’s father-in-law insists the table-saw not be sold, in part to appease his temperamental granddaughter, but also it is his own way of grieving; not giving up on his son who never came home.  The father-in-law is elderly, wheelchair bound and not able to work to provide funds for the family, yet he maintains status as the patriarch leaving very few options for the family to bring in an income.


One nice aspect of this film is how delicately Basholli plays the relationship between Fahrije and her father-in-law.  It would be easy to turn him into the antagonist representing all the other men of the village who scorn Fahrije for her actions that they deem unfit for a woman.  While he disapproves of Fahrije’s actions as a woman-in-charge, there remains a tenderness between the two through their shared bond for their missing loved-one, and by the end, there is a subtle shift of his dominance to the situation.


It amazes me how calm Fahrije’s character is throughout the film despite many very frustrating obstacles that follow her everywhere.  Fahrije does not say much within the film, her actions speak louder than words.  Basholli directs these silent moments nicely, and it gives us time for reflection to soak in the emotions: a simple hand sweeps across dust in the dark old shed, for instance.


Fahrije is the only woman in her community to accept an offer to learn how to drive.  Driving, she sees, as a means towards an income.  A way to get to and from jobs in the city.  A practical choice through the desire to survive, in a community where traditionally, women do not drive.  It is not law, rather, a social custom that has become normalized over the years.


She faces abuse after abuse for this simple act and even more so when she sets out to start her own business.  Fahrije is called a “whore” by neighbors; rocks are thrown at her; and other women who were previously friends, now disassociate themselves with her.


What makes this film so powerful is Fahrije’s almost silent defiance against the patriarchy of her village, which perhaps reflects the villagers’ fear of change.  Fear to move on from the horrors they’ve been through.  Perhaps progress means moving on, which means you’re “abandoning” those you lost.  There is a conflict between the desire to remember and the necessity to move on.  Fahrije has her own private resistance towards this fear.  Through this constant resistance to what others think and do, she perseveres.  


Though this feels nothing like a mainstream movie, it uses the classic Hollywood-storytelling model to give our heroine a mission (to run a community-based ajvar business) from which the character immediately faces obstacles.  At first, almost no one supported Fahrije’s decision to drive and start her own business.  Once she overcomes one obstacle, a bigger obstacle takes its place, such as when the village men violently throw a rock that breaks her car window, or when her father-in-law does not allow her to sell the saw, or when he refuses to give his DNA to aid in the process of identifying his son’s body.


By the end of the film, I am left in awe of Fahrije’s relentless perseverance.  She takes everything in stride and even when the entire village is seemingly against her, she pushes through with the foresight to know that only she has the power to chart her own path, to pave the way so her children can grow up with love and opportunity as opposed to hate and repression.


As a human race, I believe we’re drawn to stories of perseverance.  It adds perspective to our own lives, and nearly everyone can relate to having a dream and facing obstacles.  When we see others struggle, and not just struggle but persevere, it gives hope and determination that we too, can endure through difficult times. 


Blerta Basholli is proof of this endurance.  She grew up during the Kosova War and was a teenager when it ended. She saw the power of filmmaking to tell her stories and made her way from Kosova to NYU Tisch School of the Arts and back again.  She is dedicated to telling stories of strength and survival; stories that represent her Albanian-Kosovan culture.  This legacy will doubtless inspire the next generation to continue to seek out storytelling as a mode to deal with all the love, joy, grief and atrocities that life brings us.



By Stephanie Gardner 10.27. 2022

Illustration by Thomas Barry

“I Heart Elio” By Susan Chau 08.28.22

Dear Isa,

Hope all is well. We're finally getting a break from the stifling New York heat and can walk outside without melting. I've been on summer romance movie kick. Have you seen Call Me by Your Name? It's based on a novel by Andre Aciman, the screenplay was written by James Ivory. 


       The film first came out in winter of 2017. I watched it by myself for the first time at the Film Forum. I was so swept away by the film that two weeks later I decided to invite my two girlfriends, Fernanda and Shuly, to go see it. It was playing at the Paris Theater - the tiny art house theater right across from The Plaza Hotel. I've been frequenting that theater for years with all the old ladies for their matinee screenings that they would go to right before lunch or tea. I felt so excited to share the film because I kept thinking what a time in life it's set in. And what better film to take your girlfriends to on a bitter cold winter day than a coming of age story set in Northern Italy with cute boys?

       There are so many things to love about Call Me by Your Name -

       The first days of summer and the arrival of a new guest. 

Gallivanting about town while soaking in the sun. Seeing so much natural light on the big screen. A budding romance. Family meals together outside. Roaming around on bicycles. Timothee Chalamet. Timothee Chalamet's performance as Elio Perlman. 

       Elio's awkwardness and his posturing masculinity; he's both cautious and at times full of bravado. Timothee Chalamet. His insolent childlike attitude. How freely the scenes are blocked - how the characters move throughout the house. How the fluid camera allows them to move from exterior to interior in their wet clothes, as you do in summer. There is a brilliant exchange between the actors in the scene when Elio and Oliver argue over Elio's improvisation of a Bach piano piece. It starts on Oliver's face languidly laying out in the sun and follows Elio into the house where he riffs on the piano. 

       The piazza's! In the 1980's there wasn't as much tourism in Italy so they just let people park in the piazza in front of the Duomo. Now they've been cleared out for scenic photos. But the piazzas were quant and quiet then: for people to walk around in and enjoy. The sidewalks are meant for dining on, or in the case of Call Me by Your Name to sit and pretend to read a book while you gush over your crush and plan your next adventure. Setting the film in the 80's allows the audience to experience the authenticity and beauty of the old Italian piazzas before they were overtaken by tourists.

       Timothee Chalamet's performance is captivating. There is a peak moment in the film when Elio puts Oscar's shorts over his head while lying bed. The timing of the the scene in the arch of the film is perfect. It's voyeuristic moment very intimate and potentially uncomfortable to watch, but we are guided through this moment and it ends with such finesse almost like the last flick of the wrist or fingers of a ballerina at the end of her solo. What I appreciate is how un-rushed Timothee Chalamet's performance is. Armie Hammer as Oliver is this brash American who is very comfortable in his own skin and doesn't spend too much time deliberating over his next move. This interplay between Elio discovering his feelings and body against the more realized and confident Oliver is so fascinating to watch. I heard in an interview someone asked Luca Guadagnino whether or not all the moments with food were supposed to be sexual? He quickly dismissed it and said, "no it's epicurean." Somehow that was reassuring to hear because I love Luca Guadagnino's sensibility as a director and to fetishize those moments kind of cheapens them. It's more sensual than anything. It reminds me of the close up on the sizzling shrimp that Tilda Swinton is about to eat in "I am Love" also directed by Luca Guadagnino, and how beautifully shot it was, and yes it made my mouth water, but still, art!

       The 80's! 80's fashion 80's music. (Okay the 80's are not the best period in fashion, but the music is pretty irresistible. Talking Heads?) Most of all the music by Sufjan Stevens double sigh. Although that was not from the period and was originally recorded for the film it did capture the innocence of the time. 

       Not only is it a story about first love, but it's also a story about family and the loving acceptance of two parents who create a safe space for their son to discover who he is and for a potential love affair to unfold. An amused mother who sees all and a gentle father who laments his own missed opportunity at love. Elio is held by his two worldly parents who are aware enough to wish their son to "feel something."

       There are so many things to love about Call Me by Your Name. And my two friends did leave the theater that night saying, "Wow that was beautiful." Shuly said, "I can't remember the last time I went to see a movie in the theater." Fernanda said she wanted to go see more films. This made me so happy. I kept fantasizing that this would somehow ignite a love of cinema and a love of going to the movies in all of my friends. Perhaps it did for a little bit, but people have busy lives and now you can stream most everything at home, but it's really not the same as watching a film in the dark with a bunch of strangers with the smell of stale popcorn and artificial butter - it's so fun! Personally I love the experience, but I don't know why it was that important to me. But I do want people to fall in love with going to the movies again and I hope that at the very least you'll get there...and watch it on the big screen like it's meant to be enjoyed!                           


Illustration by Thomas Barry
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“Le Rayon Vert: Summer with Delphine” By Dale Kaplan 08.28.22

       Eric Rohmer, director of Le Rayon Vert (The Green Ray)  adores women. His understanding of and respect for the female sensibility is clearly obvious in this film as well as the others in this series. As one of my absolute favorites, I hope my review will encourage you to watch this delightful movie. 

       At several points in my life I felt so closely related to the main character Delphine that I adopted her as my alter ego.  Baristas in Brooklyn as well as take-out venues only know me as Delphine. Played by Maria Riviere, I was delighted but not surprised to find out that the actress was born exactly one day before me and one year after me. We are both archetypal capricorns, stubborn and often alone. 

       Rohmer takes us on a colorful, beautifully styled journey with Delphine as she comes to terms with the loss of her boyfriend Jean Pierre who has ended their relationship. After two years she is still alone and has not totally accepted that the relationship is over. Adding to her feelings of abandonment and loneliness, her summer vacation falls though as her traveling companion decides to ditch Delphine for a new romantic interest. 


       Throughout the film, the director helps us keep track of the passing of summer by interjecting simple scripted graphics of the dates spanning from July through August.


       While Delphine’s sister invites her to come to Ireland with her family for a camping holiday, Delphine turns down the offer as she has her heart set on spending her vacation in a hot country where she could enjoy the sun and the sea. 

       After some crying and coaxing at a highly relatable girls get-together set in a residential Parisian garden, Delphine’s best friend tries to convince her to go to Cherbourg with her and her family. Completely focused on Delphine’s dilemma, they all try to help her each in their own way. The tough love analyzer has some boundary issues as she tries to delve into Delphine’s childhood in an attempt to figure out the roots of Delphine’s loneliness.  The silent listener leans more toward the spiritual and her gentle, loving best friend soothes her tears with physical and verbal  expressions of love, comfort and encouragement.  Hopefully, we all have at least one BFF with these qualities. I have three, Shelley, Sue Bee and Stuie. 

       Delphine decides to go to Cherbourg with her best friend and her family and that’s where we get a better understanding of our heroine’s true essence. 

       Sensitive, quirky and eccentric, Delphine is her own person. She knows who she is and lives according to her own value system and beliefs. Delphine is a masterpiece. I love her!!!

       As the family and Delphine sit down for dinner in the crispy sea air our heroine refuses pork chops and explains passionately that she never eats meat on ethical grounds. Delphine prefers foods that are light and airy. Let’s remember, that in 1986, vegetarianism was not as prevalent as it is today. When offered edible flowers to adorn her salad, Delphine finds that an ethical faux pas as well.  Rohmer’s styling of this scene is picturesque as every detail is masterfully crafted. The sweaters are patinated to perfection in shades of blues and greens. The mid tone turquoise accentuates Delphine’s intensely beautiful blue eyes. The next day Delphine finds herself alone as she declines the family’s invitation to go sailing because she suffers from seasickness. She also reveals that swings make her nauseous.




When Delphine’s BFF and her boyfriend go back to Paris, Delphine leaves with them and her vacation mission continues as she has 2 weeks left before returning to work. 


       At one point she calls her old boyfriend who gives her the OK to stay in his place in the mountains. Jeanne’s Pierre’s friend greets Delphine with a warm kiss and tells her to come back in an hour to pick up the keys. Within the hour  Delphine decides to get back on the bus and head back to Paris.  The friend who is a little confused waves goodbye. Another person might have been embarrassed, but not Delphine.

       Her trip to Biarritz is also full of angst. Delphine swims by herself  in the hot sun and her loneliness is only compounded by the group shots of families and friends enjoying their time together. The shots of her smiling and trying to enjoy the waves are actually painful to watch as we know the truth.  

       On a rainy day, she takes a walk along the shore and the cliffs. Appearing despondent there is a point  when she looks out into the sea and you get the feeling that she thinks about ending it all. However, our Delphine continues on as she overhears a group of older intellectual type tourists admiring the book The Green Ray by Jules Verne. They discuss the fact that this is the only one of Verne’s books that is a romance and  they express their common admiration for the main protagonist, a fairy-like figure.  The conversation then reveals the astrophysical phenomenon of the green ray as well as its highly spiritual meaning,  The green ray is the last ray of light visible to the human eye as the sunset sets below the horizon.  It is a rare occurrence and only seen when the atmosphere is perfectly clear. The substance of the conversation was fascinating on its own, however the color green piques Delphine’s interest as she was told by a spiritualist that this year green would be her color.

       That day she meets a Swedish woman who unlike Delphine adores traveling alone, her new friend encourages her to be more open and spontaneous with men. When they meet two seemingly sweet guys, Delphine is uncomfortable with her new friend's style of flirtation and just takes off in tears. This time she packs her bags for good and heads back to Paris.

       Finally, some good news. As Delphine reads her Dostoyevsky novel (The Idiot) in the train station she catches the eye of a young man. They start talking and Delphine opens up like an umbrella. Inhibitions gone, they decide to spend the day together into the evening. They watch the sunset and you can guess the rest.


       This poetic journey in search of love and companionship is a trip I never tire of taking. I have watched this film over 20 times, Enjoy. 

Dale Kaplan is a textile artist and writer. She is a native Brooklynite and publishes the website 

Delphine Veg 2.jpg
Delphine Sea 1.jpg

"Run BTS, Here’s Our Rundown Of The Global Icons. From one ARMY to another."


By Karyssa Nguyen 09.29.22


“2! 3! 방 - 탄! 안녕하세요 방탄소년단!” or “2! 3! Bang - Tan! Hello, we are BTS!”


Bangtan Sonnyeondan (방탄소년단/Bulletproof Boy Scouts/Beyond The Scenes), or better known for their acronym BTS, is the record breaking seven member boy band straight from the heart of South Korea. The once underestimated group who debuted on June 13th of 2013 under Big Hit Entertainment has flourished into a worldwide chart topping phenomenon with millions of dedicated fans known as the BTS ARMY. Throughout their growing careers they had faced different levels of hardships both within the K-Pop industry as well as their personal lives, some of which were publicly shared during performances and or livestreams. Nonetheless, their determination and teamwork has led them to numerous musical and political achievements, some of which include working alongside UNICEF, speaking at the United Nations and attending a visit to the White House in Washington to discuss matters regarding Asian inclusion and addressing anti-Asian hate crimes. BTS have made it their mission to support the youth of this generation and help uncover the inner youth within everyone [this statement can be supported by numerous songs that the group has produced].


Meet The Members

Now, as all K-Pop groups are structured, they consist of multiple members who take on a certain role within that group. BTS is no exception, each member contributes their individual talents and personal qualities to the group overall.

BTS Chart.jpg


Despite the majority of their music and content being produced in Korean, many fans across the world are attracted to their themes and storylines that are incorporated into the BTS Universe. 


During the duration of 2013 to 2014, BTS debuted as a solely hip-hop group with their albums 2 Kool 4 Skool, O!RUL8, 2?, Skool Luv Affair, and Dark & Wild, where the boys sang on the topics of bullying and school life. As they began to transition from their school boy punk era to one of a more mature nature, they created a set of concept albums through 2015 to the first half of 2016. The albums include HYYH Pt. 1 & 2 as well as the compilation album, Young Forever (HYYH/花樣年華/The Most Beautiful Moment In Life). A few of the scenarios within the the albums go as far as creating connections to real life situations that some people may relate to include: certain addictions, tarnished relationships, and other disheartening truths that the world is poorly made up of. Following the same year of the release of HYYH: Young Forever, came the group’s second studio album after Dark & Wild that would spark their popularity in the states, the Wings album. The sophisticated art concepts that were unveiled as well as their new encounter with temptations of fame and an array of other emotions throughout the album’s promotions captured the attention of many new fans.



Not long after, the repackaged version of the album You Never Walk Alone released during the beginning of 2017 with the addition of 3 new songs. In contrast to the ghastly visuals during the Wings era, You Never Walk Alone encompasses a lighthearted, comforting appearance and sound. Towards the end of that same year, BTS rebranded, marking the start of their Love Yourself era with the release of Love Yourself: Her. Much as the title suggests, the message on the importance of self love had become the group’s newfound mission. The following year in 2018, Love Yourself: Tear and Love Yourself: Answer completed the three album compilation.



A new era arose in 2019 once the group had released the EP Map of the Soul: Persona which would later be expanded into their full length studio album   Map of the Soul: 7 in 2020. BTS begins with expressing their joys that would soon turn into a self reflection and acceptance to the shadows that follow close behind. The MV (music video) for their song "Black Swan" was a homage to the film "Black Swan" directed by Daron Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman. There's also a "Black Swan" art film, which is a beautiful orchestral rendition with MN Dance Company all clad in black like BTS themselves, set in an abandoned building with shafts of light pouring in. In the midst of the two, the group released an original soundtrack to accompany their interactive storytelling mobile game, BTS World. The tracklist contains one group song as well as three units with collaborations with American and British artists. Heading back on track to 2020, the unexpected outbreak of Covid-19 put the group at a standstill. Thus resulting in the 5th studio album BE. With the inclusion of their first all English single, Dynamite, BTS addresses the feelings that they, as well as many others, felt throughout the course of the quarantine process. All of these lead up to their most recent anthology album, Proof, released in June of 2022 almost a year after their second all English single Butter. BTS reminisce on their past with the inclusion of three all new tracks alongside the past ones handpicked by the members themselves. Now, with all said and done, these albums are just a fraction of what BTS has available. 


Tours & Films

With the songs and the right messages, the band had to share their talent with the fans. From performing and meeting in a local city plaza to sold out stadium tours, BTS had dominated the live music industry. Over the course of the group’s decade-long career they have constructed a total of six tours overall, three being worldwide, as well as various showcases, fan meetings, independent concerts, and online concerts. Meanwhile there were some features that could only be viewed in theaters or online. Ever since their debut, BTS has lived the majority of their career life on camera and some behind the scenes footage has been compiled into documentaries. Burn the Stage, Bring the Soul, and Break the Silence are the three film documentaries that were released in select theaters. Each one documenting the behind the scenes of two of their three world tours. BTS still continues to post behind the scenes featurettes quite frequently on YouTube as well as their media platform, Weverse.


Tours & Films

With the songs and the right messages, the band had to share their talent with the fans. From performing and meeting in a local city plaza to sold out stadium tours, BTS had dominated the live music industry. Over the course of the group’s decade-long career they have constructed a total of six tours overall, three being worldwide, as well as various showcases, fan meetings, independent concerts, and online concerts. Meanwhile there were some features that could only be viewed in theaters or online. Ever since their debut, BTS has lived the majority of their career life on camera and some behind the scenes footage has been compiled into documentaries. Burn the Stage, Bring the Soul, and Break the Silence are the three film documentaries that were released in select theaters. Each one documenting the behind the scenes of two of their three world tours. BTS still continues to post behind the scenes featurettes quite frequently on YouTube as well as their media platform, Weverse.


Where They Are Now? 

BTS has always been continuously pushing out content since their debut and only a fraction of it has been brought up in this rundown. A few months following their final Permission to Dance On Stage final showcase in Seoul, BTS announced that they would be going on hiatus to pursue solo projects. This news sent a wave of shock through the ARMY, but they continue to share their new solo music with the fans.



“Never mind. Bohemia’s beautiful too.”

A Companion Piece to Vera Chytilová’s Film Daisies

By Susan Chau

            Life is a farce when people don’t become what they want.  When people buy into what society says they’re supposed to do.  Girls and boys who are always obedient can become destructive because they’re always suppressing their actual desires.  Life is a farce and nothing matters.  Daisies is a moral farce where the two Maries (Marie 1 and Marie 2) are nothing but two silly marionette puppets who move through life destroying everything in their wake.


            Daisies is a 1966 Czech avant-garde film that represents the new agency of the generation it was filmed in.  It was the hippie generation that believed money is evil and life is absurd.  Ironically, the times were the “swinging sixties” as it was called, and saw the emergence of youth culture with groups such as The Beatles.  The sixties became a period of huge economic growth.  In 1961 the Berlin Wall was built separating the west from the communistic east, manifesting the iron curtain.  1960’s changes in leadership led to a series of reforms to soften and humanize the application of communist doctrines within Czech borders.  However, to the Czech youth, like the two Maries, it was still oppression any way you slice it.  From this landscape Vera Chytilová emerged as a filmmaker who wanted to make a film with absolute creative freedom: no rules or restrictions in narrative or structure.

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Art by Janelle Krone

        Chytilová was a Dadaist and Daisies embodies all the characteristics of Dadaism.  Dadaism was a movement in art and literature that is based on humor, whimsy and nonsense.  The film was also Surrealist because it was all about unusual behavior and imagery that seemed almost dreamlike – dreamlike in the way dreams juxtapose objects and symbols that tap into our unconscious.  Do you ever recall seeing a painting of a melting clock in the desert?  That’s by Salvador Dalí, the most famous surrealist painter.  Dalí was friends with Luis Buñuel who was the surrealist filmmaker who made many notable films including The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and Belle de Jour with Catherine Deneuve. This playfulness in Daisies combined with Czech vaudeville (comedy and dancing!) and Buster Keaton moves brought about this totally free form non-narrative filmmaking. 


         You could also call Daisies Absurdist Avant-Garde Feminist Art.  Although Chytilová might not agree with the “feminist art” bit.  That’s a big description to unpack, but let’s try.  I don’t think every artist/filmmaker who happens to be female intends their art to be feminist.  By labeling a work as feminist it can overshadow the other qualities of the work. This is fun, let’s keep defining the terms…!  What is absurdist art?  What is avant-garde?  And the motherlode, what is feminist art, if such a thing exists? 


          So, let’s start with avant-garde.  Avant-garde is used to describe new and unusual or experimental ideas.  This sounds broad, but it’s often very original and niche.  Avant-garde is originally a French term, which in means: vanguard, advance guard, ahead of the rest.  Daisies is definitely a film that was experimental and ahead of its time.  It’s experimental in its playful style and mixture of all these forms and movements.  In terms of filmmaking, avant-garde films are most often defined by their unique erratic editing style, associative cutting and collage. 

          The pop artist Andy Warhol made many long silent films shot on Super 16 mm film where nothing really happens.  One contains hours of footage of the Empire State Building in New York where the camera is locked off and another is the famous silent auditions of Edie Sedgewick (Warhol's muse and factory girl) sitting in front of the camera.  The most iconic however is not one that Warhol made, but one that he acted in where he is sitting and eating a Burger King Whopper in a suit and tie.  It's four and a half minutes of Andy Warhol eating a hamburger in a deadpan manner against a plain backdrop and was a segment of a film by Jorgen Leth, titled 66 Scenes from America. All that could be considered experimental/avant-garde because it was innovative and didn’t have any traditional narrative with beginning, middle and end.  


            Daisies is a film that breaks all codes of femininity.  They go on dates with what the Japanese call “salary men", eat with despicable manners, take massive bites and overindulge.  They do this with complete abandon moving from one man to another.  In fact, themes around food along with scenes of domesticity is used a lot in feminist art and films (e.g. Chantal Ackerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles and Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party).  In one scene the two Maries play with food; cut sausages and eggs with scissors as if they were playing with paper dolls.  It’s almost a symbol of phallic cutting in its destruction of reproductive organs and what gender represents.  The film has many collages of food, a plethora of images, which the viewer simultaneously consumes.  Rather than being passive female objects the two Maries are carnal and carnivorous consuming many foods for pure entertainment. 


          The mise en scène or production design as we call it in America is full of montages of collages.  It’s a film that doesn’t use traditional Hollywood production design.  It was a low budget film that utilized editing to create more of a visual and surreal experience.  There was no need to create actual scenes when the film doesn’t have traditional narratives or scenarios.  In Daisies we see associative cutting and collage where instead of cutting on movement or story beats it’s more of a patchwork style of imagery.  The production designer for Daisies, Ester Krumbachová, created a world where the props, backdrops of feminine objects and colorful interstitials all sang together like the rambling of the two Maries.  It’s an opulent style that allowed the two protagonists to consume, commiserate and stomp through.  Her vision and hand was like a kaleidoscope of texture and earthy girly wonderment.  Ester Krumbachová was not only a production and set designer she was also a screenwriter, costume designer and director.  The Lincoln Center Film Society heralded her as a “Master of the Czech New Wave”.  Much like Agnès Varda of the French New Wave, she collaborated with many of the greats of her generation of filmmakers like Vera Chytilová and Jan Nêmec whom she was a muse to. 


            Daisies is a consumptive deluge of waste and images.  In fact, Daisies was banned for its excessive food waste and also, though not as explicitly stated, for the distaste of the depiction of the two wanton woman.  In contrast The Gleaners and I by Agnès Varda carefully collects and preserves the waste that is being discarded.  Varda gleans or gathers what she sees such as the humble and precious heart-shaped potato she finds in The Gleaners and I.  However, Daisies is a film that is very self-aware of its spoiled and destructive message.  Sure it’s a playful rebellion against being typical society girls and points its cake-filled heels at the establishment, however if you pay close attention to the dialogue there is a sober acknowledgement of being or finding oneself in a spoiled state.  The film begins with absurd dialogue of empty and meaningless exchanges.  One can almost envision the beginning of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play Waiting for Godot with its two hapless characters, but instead it’s two girls in bikinis, or two virgins rather, sitting under a tree as we see in the opening.  The film posits: 



“Everything’s going bad in this world.”


“If everything’s going bad… so… we’re going… bad… as… well… right!”



          Daisies is an existential film at its core that uses the vehicle of destruction to ask this somewhat bleak question, “Does it even matter?”  In the bathtub scene the question of existence arises.  “How do you know if you exist?”  Without being registered for work, “There is no proof you exist” says Marie.  In other words, you’re just a number to the government.  Daisies is saying that day after day we give up our dreams for the goals of the tyrannical government regime, for the greater good of all citizens.  At the end of the day people who were killed during the Cold War also didn’t get to become what they wanted because they were always deserting their dreams for the greater good of society. 


         Daisies is a cathartic outpouring of food and images that spills towards the final banquet scene of destruction.  In the final scene in the large banquet hall the film circles back to its original question when Marie 1 asks, “Does it even matter?” Marie 2 replies, “If we’re good and hard-working we’ll be happy.”  Does choosing the proper path of society guarantee one’s happiness?  At the end of the film they return to the question: Does it even matter?  Adding after all the destruction… “Can you mend what’s been destroyed?”  Now they want to do everything right, but is it too late?  How does one start over after so much is ruined?  It’s a film of exaggerated extremes that playfully exercises all the forms of art and experimental film to poke at and poke fun at these eternal questions.



End Notes:


*The Czech New Wave describes a movement in Czech and Slovak cinema of the late 1960’s and 1970’s. Czech New Wave films typically contained wry satires of the Communist Party and Czech society, a willingness to deal with sexual themes, the casting of non-professional actors, and the use of documentary techniques to present fictional stories. Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism


*The French New Wave (La Nouvelle Vague) was a film movement that emerged in the late 1950’s in Paris, France. The movement was characterized by its rejection of traditional filmmaking conventions in favor of [stylistic] experimentation and personal expression.  The French New Wave was innovative and fresh, energized by the "Young Turks" who started as writers/critiques for the Cahiers du Cinéma, namely Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, and Eric Rohmer. There were many others who were part of this  movement that spanned into the 1960's, including Agnès Varda, Jacques Demy, Louis Malle, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol, André Bazin and Henri Langlois.




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Girls Cinema Club Soundtrack

Inspired by Past Lives, love songs n' girl bands
                             Curated by @missy_aggro

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